Well, the lower seeded teams surely did better on Friday than they did on Thursday in the first round of NCAA Tournament play this year. Friday’s games were much more exciting than Thursday’s were – - despite the fact that the day started off with a desperately awful game between Syracuse and Steven F. Austin. Syracuse outclassed the opposition from the very beginning; there was no mystery about which team would advance in the tournament after about 3 minutes of play. Steven F. Austin made its first field goal with 12:45 to play in the first half; at that point, they were 1-9 from the field; the game had been over for about 5 minutes at that point. Two observations from this game:
1. SF Austin guard, Eric Bell, is listed at 5’3”; I suspect that is with shoes on. Channeling Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson here, did I hear someone ask me, “How short was he?” Well, I suspect that you can see his feet in his passport picture.
2. Those great Miami sports fans ignored these games about the way they ignore Florida Marlins games. Being generous, the afternoon games played to 50% capacity.
Kansas/North Dakota State was an interesting game for two reasons; it was close for much of the game and NDSU guard, Ben Woodside, is a fun player to watch. As for the rest of his Bison teammates, Meh! North Dakota State plays in the Summit League. I was able to guess one other member of that league (South Dakota State) but I do not live in that part of the country so it is not a league that gets a lot attention in the press where I live. There are ten teams in the Summit League; without resorting to Google, how many can you name?
Tennessee and Oklahoma State played a game that was close pretty much from start to finish. In that game, the referees used the replay to review a technical foul that had been called for what looked at first to be an intentionally hard foul; after further review, they got it right and merely called it a personal foul. That was a good use of technology. Oklahoma State will advance and one reason is that Tennessee’s defense – individually and as a team – is just awful.
Utah State and Marquette played a close game that provided a fabulous finish with Marquette advancing. I thought Utah State had a great shot to win this game outright and was really surprised to see that the opening line on the game was Utah State plus 5.5. That line dropped all the way to 3.5 by game time; nonetheless, Utah State covered.
The second tranche of games for the afternoon had two stinkers. Temple never seemed to have any rhythm to its game all day; Arizona State handled them relatively easily. Both teams are well coached; they did not make many boneheaded plays, but Temple seemed out of sorts from the opening tip off. During one span from the end of the first half and into the second half, Temple missed 13 consecutive shots from the field.
Cornell/Missouri was close for much of the first half and then Missouri blew the game open. The leading scorer for the Missouri Tigers was Leo Lyons. When I have to reach that far to find something to mention about a game, that should give you an idea how unexciting it was.
Pitt struggled with East Tennessee State yesterday. In the first 15 minutes, Pitt turned the ball over 10 times. Pitt was a 20-point favorite in this game; Pitt led 26-23 at the half, 46-42 with 10:00 minutes left in the game and 61-57 with 3:30 left to play. The Panthers won by 10 but that was the only double digit lead in the entire game.
Dayton upset West Virginia. At first, I could not figure out if Dayton was playing a fast tempo game or if they were just playing a frenzied game. I think it was both. Dayton won the game because Dayton played really good pressure defense for the entire game. According to my watch, it was 5:20 EDT when Bob Huggins departed the tournament this year in the first round. Here in Curmudgeon Central, that is always a moment of calm knowing that justice in the universe has been served yet one more time.
The Portland State/Xavier match-up was a game destined to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who think mid-major teams are the best thing to happen to the tournament since the jump shot. Here were two mid-majors playing each other; one of them had to advance. In this case, it was Xavier and it was pretty obvious that was how it would turn out for most of the second half.
Arizona upset Utah. The Utes stood around on defense like a bunch of trees in a forest. Three teams from Utah were in the tournament this year and all are out in the first round. Normally, I would say that would have people there crying in their beer, but that metaphor just does not seem to fit with the State of Utah.
Morehead State trailed #1 seed Louisville at the half by 2 points. After eight minutes had gone by in the second half, Morehead State trailed by 18. Louisville won by 20.
USC beat Boston College handily and I guess this was an upset in the sense that you could get USC plus points in Las Vegas. However, this BC team lost to Harvard earlier this year; so any loss they might have encountered in the NCAA Tournament cannot be that huge a surprise.
Wisconsin upset Florida State in OT in a really ugly game. The teams combined to miss 85 shots from the field and turn the ball over 23 times. Fortunately, the game was close for most of the time or it would have been unwatchable.
The final three games of the day should have been played on St. Patrick’s Day because the teams wearing green in those three late games all won. Michigan State was supposed to win over Robert Morris and they obliged; the score was 30-30 at one point; it wound up with Michigan State winning by 15 but it could have been worse.
Siena beat Ohio State in double OT. The reason Siena won is really pretty simple; they are faster than Ohio State; they do not have the size or the bulk that Ohio State has, but they were quicker at just about every position. A game between Siena and Dayton would leave the spectators breathless.
Cleveland State qualifies as this year’s Cinderella. The 13th seed in their bracket, Cleveland State hammered Wake Forest by 15 points. As was the case in the Siena game, Cleveland State was simply quicker at every position last night. Cleveland State’s nickname is the Vikings. Really? Leif Ericson made it all the way inland to Lake Erie? I didn’t know that…
Finally, I had an e-mail exchange with Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times earlier today. I mentioned to him that he might want to keep track of the story that the NCAA trademark watchdogs are upset with NASA because NASA is doing something on its website called “Mission Madness” where NASA missions are put in brackets and people vote for their favorites and eventually it boils down to “The Most Favorite Mission”. I said to Dwight Perry that I hoped the NASA Legal Counsel had the onions to tell the NCAA they would meet them in court.
Dwight Perry’s response to that was simple, direct and brilliant:
“Maybe the NASA lawyers should tell the NCAA’s: ‘You don’t know Canisius from Uranus.’ “
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…