As it always does, the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us some great moments. Great moments, such as R.J. Hunter’s buzzer-beater (and his torn-Achilles’d dad/coach falling out of his stool) will echo in eternity, as the NCAA’s corporate partners use buzzer beaters and catatonic losing players to somehow convince you that Pontiac still exists as a producer of automobiles. These moments also overshadow what can be some pretty shoddy basketball.
N.C. State/Villanova, won in the waning seconds on a tip-in? Preceded by seven minutes of atrocious basketball, with both teams apparently trying to throw the game South Park style. Georgia/Michigan St.? Teased us for a few minutes because Michigan State fouled on multiple layups, missed some key free throws, and won on the strength of Georgia choking just a little worse.
The Sweet 16, at the very least, is where the cream starts to rise to the top. Your top NBA prospects (referenced in last week’s tourney primer) are almost all still in play. Kentucky is still undefeated, Duke is still alive with its 3 lottery picks, and that big white dude from Wisconsin is still set to have that awkward Naismith Award interview during halftime of one of the Final Four games.
Midwest: #1 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia, #3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State
By FAR the most intriguing bracket, because 1) Kentucky, duh; 2) their opponents/potential opponents. Bob Huggins’ 2010 West Virginia squad stopped the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats cold with a ruthless, attacking 1-3-1 defense back then, and history has a way of repeati….HAHAHA JK. But, go Mountaineers anyway.
Last year, an eighth-seeded Kentucky squad knocked…guess who?…Wichita State from the ranks of the unbeaten on the way to the finals. STORYLINES! And Notre Dame is the hottest team in the country. Undersized, yes, but their four-out-one-in offense is probably the best recipe to crack Kentucky’s ridiculous defense.
The pick: Calling Kentucky over Notre Dame here.
West: #1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina, #6 Xavier vs. #2 Arizona
Until today, I didn’t know there was a (decidedly one-sided and petty) beef between Wisconsin and UNC, but hey. My favorite excerpt:
Williams told a throng of national reporters: “Are you going to tell me you don’t like this more than 19-17 at halftime? I’m not a nuclear physicist, but you make the choice. We’re trying to make it a game of basketball skills, not a weight-room contest.”
This was in reference to a 2000 Final Four game in which Wisconsin played, where the halftime score above was correct. The Badgers are still that hateable, playing at the nation’s 346th quickest tempo. They are, as you might expect, a bunch of white guys with bad haircuts, so join me in cheering for UNC. There’s my pitch.
Arizona is still the most dangerous yet unpredictable team in the tourney. All three of their losses came to teams who failed to make it to the final
64 68, and their offense occasionally disappears. If they’re on, though, they’re a match for Kentucky.
The pick: Unfortunately, I have a gut feeling about Xavier (whom I haven’t seen play in YEARS) knocking off ‘Zona. Wisconsin tempos North Carolina to death by not allowing them to get into transition. Wisconsin is the beneficiary and advances, at which point I may actually lean towards supporting Kentucky in the Final Four*.
*- There is a very real, very horrifying chance that both Duke and N.C. State make the Final Four. This is my hell. Go Big Blue, assuming Carolina has been shown the door.
East Bracket: #8 N.C. State vs. #4 Louisville, #3 Oklahoma vs. #7 Michigan State
The Wolfpack and Spartans, respectively, knocked off #1 Villanova and #2 Virginia in the opening weekend, throwing the East into wide-open chaos. State actually won AT Louisville earlier in the season, but Rick Pitino is the March Mobster (has anyone taken this joke before? Not in those exact words. Fun links anyway. ‘No cuddling on the bathroom floor’ is my new rally cry for UL games).
I know little about Oklahoma, but their Big XII brethren took the GAS in week 1. #3’s Iowa State and Baylor didn’t survive the first four hours of play, #2 Kansas lost to little brother Wichita State, and #5 West Virginia draws Kentucky. Counter that with what I said about Pitino above, take out the mobster part, and demonstrate more success and overachieving in the tourney, and you get Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Don’t bet against Tom Izzo.
The pick: I choose to believe N.C. State has had its moment and Louisville wins by 8-10 points. And DON’T BET AGAINST TOM IZZO! Sparty beats Louisville, although I honestly didn’t know they were going to qualify for the tournament until I saw them paired with Georgia.
South Bracket: #1 Duke vs. #5 Utah, #2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA
Utah is big, physical, and has athletes at the guard position. Which could beat Duke. Self-delusion over.
Gonzaga/UCLA is a fun matchup, because it means we get to see Adam Morrison crying about 12 times in the minutes leading up to, during, and after the game. The Bobcats drafted him third overall over about 40 guys who had better NBA careers, and I’m still bitter about it.
“Let me taste your tears, Scott!”
The pick: Step 5: acceptance. Duke rolls over Utah, rolls over a Gonzaga team that actually reaches the regional final for the first time since 1999, although they’ve been to every tournament since.
Kentucky/Wisco, Michigan State/Duke. And I’m free to do something else next weekend.
There is no question that Mark Fox has silenced most all of his former critics…including me. Fox has strung together back to back 20 win seasons, two top 5 conference finishes, and produced the most electric one-game atmosphere the program has seen in a very long time. Program momentum seems undeniably increasing.
Yet once again the UGA basketball team produced a head-scratching, hair-pulling, and overall exasperating performance against Michigan State on Friday morning. The Dawgs are one and done yet again in the NCAA Tournament.
I suppose we should not be surprised. Fox’s boys were handed, by all accounts, an automatic death sentence when they drew Tom Izzo and the Spartans in the first round. There are some teams that expend most of their energy getting to the tournament only to crash out of the first round. Georgetown is a perennial example of this inertia, though not this year.
Michigan State is just the opposite. The Spartans will seem non-existent in November. Fire Tom Izzo rumors will begin to pick up speed in December. In January some will wonder if MSU will even be in the tournament. Yet, come March, the Spartans will find themselves in the Sweet 16 as if there were never even a question of their merits.
UGA is not a team like that, and it showed on Friday.
In the first few minutes of the game UGA had every opportunity to get out to a very comfortable early lead. Note, no one really thought they would be able to keep it, but there was no doubt that all the momentum was there for the Dawgs if any of the close looks had gone down. Hardly any of them did. The Spartans finished the first half on a 25-8 run, and the game seemed all but over.
The long and the short of it is that UGA is tougher than most any team they just aren’t very talented. UGA looked nervy, young, and out of their depth. I’m not sure what else we could expect from a team that has minimal experience in games that really matter, but if we are going to continue to call the basketball program “improving” performances like Friday’s are going to have to change.
The Dawgs certainly did not quit, to be fair. It felt like a dream to look up at a clock under 30 seconds with just 3 points separating UGA and a program like Michigan State. That would have been a moral victory for the Dawgs had it stayed that way.
But it didn’t.
Michigan State made their free throws and UGA just couldn’t get anything to fall, capped off by a missed layup by Mann in the final seconds of the game. Sure, you probably won’t win when you shoot 33% from the field and 22% from three against Michigan State. You damn sure won’t beat a team like that if you have 12 turnovers, with almost all of them coming in the first half. Yet, one can’t help leaving that game wondering what might have been if UGA hadn’t wilted under the heat of the moment.
The Dawgs are surely to be praised for their improvement over the past two seasons, and that improvement showed in UGA not being intimidated by Michigan State at any point in the contest. But no one can fault UGA basketball fans who are still frustrated and are hoping they’re wrong to feel dread at the prospect of another one and done in the tournament next year.
But pause for a moment and consider that the Dawgs really should make the Madness again next year, as they return veterans Gaines and Mann on top of overperforming Maten and Forte. This is a wholly new position for most fans of UGA basketball. The hope will be that poise and maturity become co-watchwords with toughness and grit.
If that sort of progress isn’t made then you begin to wonder just how much farther Fox can take this program. For now, however, no one can say UGA hasn’t taken big steps. The program is up and walking again for the first time in many many years.
We just don’t know where we’re headed yet.
As college basketball falls more and more out of the mainstream consciousness*, it gets harder to motivate oneself to a) follow the sport in the regular season, and b) fill out a bracket with the dedication and research, or in the timely manner, that was once en vogue.
*- A 2010 Gallup poll ranked college basketball the 8th most popular sport among Americans, down from 3rd in 1991.
Having said that, Kentucky is your undefeated, gargantuan favorite. There are no appointment-watch one-and-done players, such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Michael Beasley from years past (DeAngelo Russell at Ohio State is the closest). There are no appointment-watch white guys a la Adam Morrison or the Jimmer.
All we have this year is a lot of parity, which hopefully leads to a lot of close games and
a lot of clever “NOW ITS OFFICIALLY MARCH!!!!” comments from the announcers.
Favorite: Since we mentioned Kentucky, why not start here? Kentucky’s roster would be the second-tallest in the NBA, only behind Portland. Forward Karl Anthony Towns is gaining momentum as the #1 pick, twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison were ridiculous in last year’s tourney, and its going to take a parade of 3’s and an extreme off night to beat them.
Other contenders: Well, #2 Kansas lost to Kentucky by like, 35 points earlier this season. That’s never good. The cavalcade of 3’s I mentioned that could beat Kentucky? It could come from 3-seed Notre Dame, who spreads the floor with four knockdown shooters.
Sleeper: Going with #7 Wichita State. They were undefeated in the regular season last year, and still have a lot of those players. Insert catchwords like “moxie”, “poise” or “experience” here. And Wichita/Kansas in the second round could be a lot of fun.
Super Dark Horse: #12 Buffalo? They led Kentucky AT Kentucky at the half back in December, which I realize means absolutely nothing. So whatever. Carry on.
Best NBA Talent: The real reason most of the DYC staff is here. I’ve got to go with Towns, or Anthony-Towns, as I’m not sure if the Anthony is part of his first or last name. 6’10, agile, explosive, developing face-up game, Blake Griffin potential without the gaudy college numbers to back it up (because he has talent around him).
Favorite: Logic would dictate I trump the #1 seed Wisconsin here, but (say it with me now) NEVER TRUST THE BIG TEN. Give me Arizona, who has the talent, length, and athleticism to challenge everyone, including the presumptive champs.
Other Contenders: With Wisconsin being one, I don’t trust a slowdown-and-threes team. #4 North Carolina could carry the momentum from a nice ACC Tourney run…or they could bow out in the first round, and neither would surprise me. Quite frankly, not a single other team strikes me as Final Four-quality (which could explain why college basketball is so down).
Sleeper: From the same template as Wichita State, VCU is the 7-seed, has recent success on its side, and has a legitimately terrifying ability to completely bury you. Next best guess? Their first round opponent, Ohio State, who just seemed to sleepwalk through this season and could turn it on.
Super Dark Horse: #14 Georgia State. Seriously. They get an underwhelming 3-seed in Baylor in the first round, and could feasibly take out Xavier or Ole Miss in the round of 32. Why not? Nobody’s reading this far anyway.
Best NBA Talent: A ton of good choices here. Arizona F Stanley Johnson and Ohio State G DeAngelo Russell are one-and-done lottery picks. There are great college talents such as Wisconsin three-balling C Frank Kaminsky, whose name you will hear a ton. I’m going sleeper here though, Arkansas F Bobby Portis, the SEC player of the year. Almost 50% on catch-and-shoot 3’s, 18 points per game in SEC play, and 6’11. And I had never heard of him til last week.
Favorite: All about the V-schools here. I’d take #2 Virginia if Justin Anderson had proven he was healthy, but his complete inability to play offensive basketball in the ACC tournament with his broken pinkie has me steering clear. By default, then, you have #1 Villanova.
Other Contenders: #4 Louisville has Rick Pitino and crazy person Montrezl Harrell, and plays a style that makes everyone uncomfortable (enter Pitino restaurant joke here). I have no reason to believe in #3 Oklahoma as they’re inconsistent. We’ve been beaten over the head with #5 Northern Iowa for me to say there’s no way.
Sleeper: Realistic sleeper candidates include
#10 Georgia sorry it’s just not happening; maybe the winner of the 8/9 game between N.C. State and LSU? Both teams have impressive strengths and no glaring weaknesses, and both have enough athleticism to compete with Villanova.
Super Dark Horse: #11 Dayton hasn’t even qualified for the field of 64 yet, but they made a run to the Sweet 16 recently. #14 Albany could spring a first-round upset on Oklahoma.
Best NBA Talent: A little tough to lock down here. Louisville’s Harrell is the only first-rounder according to the wildly inaccurate and speculative NBADraft.net. UVA’s Anderson is a big 2, but as I said he’ll be worthless at least the first weekend, so no help there. Go Harrell and enjoy his antics.
Favorite: $&(@Y@&*#((! Shaping up just like their joke of a run in 2010, Duke arguably drew the biggest lightweights in the #2 (Gonzaga) and #4 (Georgetown) spots. Damnit.
Other Contenders: Gonzaga has never made it to the Elite 8, yet we keep trumpeting them as a true contender. I’m on that wait and see. #3 Iowa State made a nice run last year and *pulls out megaphone* Fred Hoiberg’s team is the most entertaining team in college basketball. Watch them play if you can. I’ll go Iowa State as legit, #5 Utah as a light sleeper.
Sleeper: #9 St. John’s. The Johnnies (I think Steve Lavin is still their coach) gave Duke 32 minutes of a game earlier this year, and could meet them again in the round of 32. With no overwhelming teams in the 4/5 pod, they could play for a shot at the Final Four potentially.
Super Dark Horse: #10 Davidson. They won an A-10 that included VCU and others (don’t ask me to name them without research).
Best NBA Talent: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow, and Tyus Jones. Okafor is a young Al Jefferson, Winslow is a poor man’s (insert crazy athletic young NBA wing), and Jones is a steady point who could top out as an offensive-minded CP3. F**k Duke.
I guess, based on the above, that I have Kentucky/Arizona/Villanova/Duke as favorites to make the Final Four. No way in hell this happens, but in keeping with the format above, those are your best bets.
If this comes to pass, Kentucky/Arizona, in my opinion, is for the title. And Kentucky wins. And demolishes Villanova or Duke.
Let’s hope the parity shines through on the first weekend, because beyond that all we get is TruTV jokes.
“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.”
It has further been said that an innocuous tweet from someone with a limited following, upon questioning the existence of TruTV, is the butterfly flutter that sends its fanbase out in droves.
The tweet in question:
Let’s play a game: name one show that airs on TruTV the other 361 days of the year. Winner gets a curious nod of respect. #truTV
— Chad Floyd (@Chad_Floyd) March 17, 2015
Within 90 seconds, Impractical Jokers, a show where I am going to logically assume they pull practical jokes on unsuspecting people. Wikipedia says the following: “(they) coerce one another into doing public pranks while being filmed by hidden cameras. The show differs from other prank television programs in that the stars of Impractical Jokers do not know the details of the prank until the moment they are performing it on strangers. While one cast-member performs the prank, the other three comedians in the troupe are behind the scenes feeding lines to their friend via microphone (with an earpiece). The lines fed to the prankster are meant to create a humorous and awkward exchange between the prankster and the stranger being pranked.”
I GOT GOT! But I will definitely give the program a shot. I feel like I’m obligated now, and I kinda enjoyed Punk’d for maybe two episodes before Ashton Kutcher inevitably annoyed me senseless.
Unfortunately, they also started the hashtag #nodsfromChad, as I am obligated to give curious nods of respect to those who can name a show on TruTV. Embedding this many tweets would cause a carpal-tunnel related loss of productivity at the age of 27, so please accept one mass nod with a LOT of screencaps to follow.
And the chaos that ensued. Sweet heavenly mercy, TruTV people. Well played.
Oh, and since TruTV is part of the media conglomerate that is paying the NCAA $11 BILLION for broadcast rights over the life of their 14-year contract, your daily reminder: #deathtotheNCAA.
Carry on and prosper, TruTV. I’ll sleep with one eye open.
In case you had forgotten, John Oliver helpfully reminded the audience of Last Week Tonight that indeed, the NCAA is still the worst.
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