NCAA Days Three and Four -- Winners and Losers
Well, I'm guessing that this past weekend of basketball is not how the money people behind the Final Four's coming to Houston drew it up on the chalkboard.
March madness underway.
In a tournament that already had last year's regional darling Baylor on the outside looking in, the only two Texas teams with a puncher's chance (sorry, UT-SA) were sent home unceremoniously, Texas A&M on Friday afternoon (in a game that saw the Aggies procrastinate until the 13-minute mark of the first half to finally score) and the Longhorns yesterday (in a game that you could not have better scripted for the "Worst of Rick Barnes" DVD if you tried).
So now you're left with a Sweet 16 almost completely devoid of Big 12 representation, with four teams seeded eighth or higher in their region. Right now, if you're holding tickets to Reliant next weekend, here are my best- and worst-case-possible scenarios for the Final Four:
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: North Carolina (East), Duke (West), Kansas (Southwest), BYU (Southeast)
Summary: You would get a rematch of the "best rivalry in college basketball" in Duke and North Carolina on one side of the bracket with Kansas (fresh off knocking out the 10 through 12 seeds in the Southwest Regional) against Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette on the other. All finals matchups from this four are desirable because they either involve the Jimmer or they involve two traditional powers (Kansas against the Duke-UNC winner).
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Marquette (East), San Diego State (West), Richmond (Southwest), Wisconsin (Southeast)
Summary: An 11 seed against the "other" Mountain West team on one side, and a team named after spiders against a team that just scored 33 points in a Big Ten tournament game on the other side. This Final Four playing out might force the committee to affix a warning label on future ticket order forms -- "WARNING: Attending these games may cause drowsiness if two of the teams are double digit seeds and/or from Wisconsin."
All right, should be interesting to watch it play out. The Connecticut native in me is hoping for the Huskies to make it here, the basketball fan in me is hoping for the "Best-Case Scenario" above and the snarky radio host in me is hoping for the "Worst-Case Scenario." Now on to some winners and losers from this weekend:
WINNER: North Carolina (sort of)
On the scoreboard, they did beat Washington 86-83, but watch the last 5.4 seconds and count the number of screwups. I count four, two by each team. (Start at about the 12:00 mark of the video and play from there.):
Here are my four:
1. Notice that Washington coach Lorenzo Romar calls timeout after the Tar Heels hit the second free throw to go up 86-83. CBS goes to break, and comes back and Romar is feverishly coaching up his crew, presumably drawing up a play and discussing scenarios in case of a make or miss. But mostly, you would hope, drawing up a play for a tying shot. So the team breaks the huddle, inbounds the ball to Venoy Overton, who then tosses up a wild half court shot with nearly three seconds still remaining. So either Overton is the worst listener on the planet, or Romar instructed Overton that this was considered a suitable attempt. Either way, it's not good, but for the moment, they were bailed out by...
2. ...North Carolina's John Henson trying unsuccessfully to catch the ball when letting it hit the ground would give the Tar Heels the ball back. This will not be the last we hear from Henson.
3. So after the ball was given back to Washington, they inbound with 0.5 seconds left, and Isiah Thomas gets a look at a decent shot, but unfortunately his foot was well inside the three point line, meaning that even the prettiest of outcomes leaves the Huskies short one point. Even if the referees called a goaltending...
4. ...on Henson, who inexplicably swatted at a ball that was well on its way down. Seriously, this 5.4 second stretch made me think twice about asking John Henson to perform any task other than dunking a basketball.
WINNER: Virginia Commonwealth University
I interviewed roughly a half dozen coaches (past and present) during the Tournament Central show on Sporting News Radio on Thursday and Friday. Literally, all of them, when asked about sources of motivation and playing with a chip on their shoulder from some sort of disrespect, gave the canned "We just focus on our ability and what we can control, yadda yadda yadda." Thankfully, we have VCU's head coach Shaka Smart, who, after three wins in five days, not only openly talked about the naysayers but literally played Joe Lunardi's soundbites trashing the VCU at-large bid on a loop in the locker room. Shaka Smart made some money this weekend. Enjoy him now, VCU.
WINNER: Jimmer Fredette
Everyone was worried about BYU when they lost Brandon Davies because of honor code violations, worried that the Player of the Year in country might not make it out of the first weekend of the tournament. Now, not only did he make it out of the first weekend (fairly convincingly), but his region has three good but beatable teams remaining -- Florida, Wisconsin, Butler. So not only do we possibly get more of The Jimmer, but we get him chucking up 30 shots a game. Score! (And yes, Butler, Wisconsin and BYU are all alive in the same bracket. Apparently, Hickory High and the 1986 Celtics were unavailable for comment.)
WINNER: Championship experience
Fun fact: Six of the 16 coaches remaining have won titles (Coach K with four, Calhoun, Williams, and Donovan with two, and Fisher and Self with one), and three have lost in the title game in the last four years (Matta in 2007, Calipari in 2008 and Stevens last year). This just in, good coaching wins. Which brings me to the losers:
LOSER: Texas End-of-Game Management
A lot was made over the five-second call at the end.
But if Jordan Hamilton doesn't inexplicably call timeout when Texas gets the ball back up one point with about 14 seconds left, then they never have to inbound the ball. If they don't foul Derrick Williams as he makes the tying basket, they go to overtime. Texas had its chances to close the game out. They simply Barnesed it...
...while Pitt Dixoned it.
Easy to second guess now why Dixon would have any rebounders underneath as Pitt shot free throws to take the lead (maybe hoping for a tip-in?), but all I know is
2004: #3 seed (lost to #2 seed Oklahoma State in Sweet 16)
2005: #9 seed (lost to #8 seed Pacific in First Round)
2006: #5 seed (lost to #13 seed Bradley in Second Round)
2007: #3 seed (lost to #2 seed UCLA in Sweet Sixteen)
2008: #4 seed (lost to #5 seed Michigan State in Second Round)
2009: #1 seed (lost to #3 seed Villanova in Elite Eight)
2010: #3 seed (lost to #6 seed Xavier in Second Round)
2011: #1 seed (lost to #8 seed Butler in Third Round)
So in three years Pitt has played to its seed (2004, 2005 and 2007) losing in the round they were seeded to and to a higher seeded team. In the remaining years (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011), they lost to lower seeded teams, and in two of those years they were significantly lower seeded opponents (2006 and 2011, by 8 and 7 spots, respectively).
I know Jamie Dixon is a fantastic regular season coach who probably has less blue chip talent than most of his peers, but at some point, someone is messing up -- either Dixon for being unable to break through in March or the committee for overestimating his teams. This season, I think this was a team that deserved a two seed. Of course, I thought Notre Dame deserved a one seed, and...
LOSER: Notre Dame
...we saw how that worked out. Harassed by a much more athletic Florida State team all night long, the Irish were never in their Sunday game against the Seminoles. Shots didn't fall, they couldn't defend, and now you have to paint Mike Brey with the same brush that you paint Jamie Dixon. Oh well, at least it's almost football season....wait, what? Michael Floyd, what? DWI? DAMMIT!
LOSER: Ticket holders for San Antonio
The four teams remaining -- Kansas, Florida State, VCU and Richmond. Or as I like to call it, the Bill Self Invitational. I'm sure the casual fan who bought tickets to this regional is thrilled to get Kansas and three double digit seeds. Scalpers are now scrambling to find out if tickets to see whatever-it-is-Charlie Sheen-is-going-to-do are worth anything so that they can pay their mortgages next month.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3PM weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.