Wow, where to start? Kansas got bounced, Georgetown once again played down to the level of its opponent, the Big East fell on its collective face, and heroes were once again made in the madness of March. Your bracket is probably more messed up than making Holocaust jokes to Matisyahu, but at least you are not alone. There are predictably no perfect brackets on ESPN, and the only perfect bracket, if it is out there, probably belongs to some coward who filled out 15 different brackets and submitted them all. Yeah, I just called them out. Make a bracket and stick to it and allow your other insights to live in speech only. But off the soap box and back to the bracket. Why should we start with the eliminated teams when we can start with the teams that could win 2 in a row? Do not worry we will get to everything, but let’s start with the winners, not the losers.
“The No-Surprise” Sweet 16 Teams
Count Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke, WVU, Ohio State and Kansas State are the remaining 1 and 2 seeds remaining and most of them were probably correctly in your sweet 16. They are showing that they are clearly deserving of their seeds. They have all showed exactly why they were seeded where they were and have all won fairly easily. Probably the most impressive of all of these to me has been Duke. Colin Cowherd, someone whose opinion I am usually wary of, made a good point in saying that “if you take Duke’s name off the jerseys you would rank them much higher than they are”. He has been spot on so far as Duke’s size and defense have made them look like one of the most solid teams in teh tournament. Obviously all these teams have impressed to be where they are but Duke really stood out to me.
“The Entirely Possible” Sweet 16 Teams
This group belongs to the teams like Baylor, Michigan State, Purdue, Tennessee, Butler and Xavier. Most people would put Butler a step lower, but if you have watched Butler this season, you would not be at all surprised to see them as one of the last 16 teams standing. Butler should take this as a compliment, you are no longer undermanned Cinderella, you are the likeable quality team defying mid-major logic. All these teams are seeded 3-6 and no one would scoff if you had any of them in your sweet 16. All are threats to go to the elite eight, but Michigan State took a big blow with Kalin Lucas’ injury. All of these teams have shots, but some have better shots than others as Butler faces Syracuse, Tennessee faces Ohio State, Hummel-less Purdue faces Duke, and Xavier faces Kansas State. All of those are uphill battles, but I would say all are winnable for the lower seeds, though unlikely. The others have somewhat easier matchups on paper but if this tournament has taught us anything it is that nothing is easy.
“The Team Benefitting From A Seeding Discrepancy And Making The Most Of It” Sweet 16 Teams
I would put Washington and St. Mary’s into this category with Cornell and Northern Iowa certainly qualifying but being held until later. Washington had no business being an 11 seed being so hot going in, and my Marquette Golden Eagles were seeded far too high with New Mexico, so Washington’s road has been a bit easier than that of St. Mary’s. St, Mary’s drew sneaky-sleeper Richmond and made them look like a JV team with Omar Samhan and then rebuffed Scottie Reynolds and Nova in the second round rather convincingly. The score was close but this was definitely not a case of one team getting lucky. St. Mary’s deserved to win that game and that they did should be no surprise. They probably should have been a 7 seed, which would still make them a longer shot to make it, but they are not your classic double-digit seeded team making it on grits and 3 point shooting. I would give St. Mary’s a great shot to beat Baylor and make the elite eight if Omar Samhan can deal with Ekpe Udoh and Mickey McConnell can continue to play well. He is just glad Ross Geiger is not guarding him anymore. I would give Washington far smaller a chance as they have to go up against a very tough and athletic West Virginia team that has a new Mr. Clutch in Da’Sean Butler (the previous being Jerry West) and creates matchup problems all over the court. Washington is good but not on the same level as St. Mary’s as far as advancing is concerned.
“The WHO JUST WON?!?!?!?!?!” Sweet 16 Team
Both of the teams in this group are obviously no slouches, but were simply drawn against such tough competition that few picked them to advance so far. Cornell and Northern Iowa showed a lot all year, but with draws against Kansas for Northern Iowa and Cornell having to have both Temple and Wisconsin in their way, few thought they could survive the crucible of March Madness. However, both teams have been phenomenal and completely deserving of their tickets to the Regional Semifinals. Both were impressive but went about it in different ways. Cornell impressed twice against fairly good opponents and did so with some comfort. They beat down Temple not looking at all the part of an Ivy League school with their ability to score and play a quality all-around game. Then they befuddled Wisconsin with the 1-3-1 Zone and completely took the Badgers out of their Swing Offense. Big Red is no big fluke, they are for real. Northern Iowa played well in their first game, but only really impressed on a national stage against overall #1 Kansas. They used a bit more of the classic mid-major recipe using quality defense, great shooting and clutch performances to upset the more talented team. However, they had tons of all those things in toppling the Jayhawks, most of all Ali Farokhamanesh (only spelling that once) who threw the final dagger sinking the three that put UNI up 4 with only 30 seconds left. Much has been made about how if he misses that it would make him one of the biggest chokers in recent memory, but he hit it, just like he did against UNLV, and kicked Rock Chalk Jayhawk to the curb (or sidewalk if you are a rhymenocerous, shout out to Flight of the Conchords). Another important note on UNI: They have a really good big man in Jordan Eglseder, a very important element for a team trying to make a run. Both UNI and Cornell are outstanding teams that surprised everyone, but UNI seems to have it much easier with a Kalin Lucas-less Michigan State than Cornell does with Kentucky. I would go as far as to call UNI the favorite to win that game, but anything can happen and if Ali F isnt there to knock down the clutch shot there is no telling what could happen, especially with Michigan State’s last win. Both teams have their work cut out for them, but if the previous two rounds are any indicator, they are more than ready to take on any challengers.
Now let’s not get crazy and call it the biggest upset of all time, we still have Valpo and NC State over Houston at the top of the upset pyramid, and while UNI’s upset was impressive it was definitely not the greatest of all time. There are a bunch of upsets I would put above this one, so let’s not get all crazy about the latest upset.
The Losers and Not-Quites
Consider this the “Everyone Else” group, but I could not bring myself to lump losers like Georgetown in with hard-fighting almost-were’s Murray State. Georgetown has done it all year and did it in the first round, they played to the level of their opponent and got popped in the face by a scrappy Ohio team lead by IU transfer Armon Bassett. Ohio deserved to win and they did. Georgetown deserved to lose because they could not find a way to play good basketball against frankly inferior teams and that is that. They are like Wake Forest last year. If they won their first game, they were in a position to put a hurt on the top teams, but Wake could not beat Cleveland State and Georgetown could not wake up (slight pun intended) for the smaller and less talented Ohio. Attention inconsistent but talented teams: Beware the Buckeye State.
The other upsets were a bit more predictable but still shocking to most. Murray State beat Vanderbilt on some last minute magic, Old Dominion exposed the Irish as fool’s gold, and Washington somewhat un-shockingly beat Marquette. The first few of these are worth talking about because they gave us some outstanding basketball. Murray State is no slouch and really just plays solid basketball. They gave Butler a run for their money and were, without a doubt, one of the top 25 teams in the country this year, regardless of where they land int eh final rankings. They did not win 18 games in a row (leading up to Butler) through some fluke, they are a damn good basketball team and showed it. Vandy, on the other hand, remained plagued by the first round and failed to advance once again. Old Dominion’s win was also not unforeseen as an outstanding blog (here) told you to look out for ODU in the tournament. The Monarchs played well and were the better team by most any measure. Luke Harangody once again laid a tournament egg and probably dropped himself out of the NBA Draft, or at least close to it.
I like UNI over Michigan State, Tennessee over Ohio State, Kentucky over Cornell, West Virginia over Washington, Syracuse over Butler, Kansas State over Xavier, Duke over Purdue, and St. Mary’s over Baylor. My final four is as good as yours. I have no idea, but that is part of the fun of March Madness.
So much good basketball im such a short period of time is pretty close to sports Nirvana especially when teamed with Spring Training. That being said, we cannot cover every team because we have other things to talk about, other sports to cover, and other work to do. If you want to talk about a game so bad, then comment about the game and discussion will ensue. Yeah, OTC is going interactive.
Keep an eye out for the AL Preview coming soon to OuttaTownClowns!