Thursday, March 20, 2008

10 Opening Day Thoughts: Thursday-Style in March Madness

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Sorry folks, no Cinderella-slipper for George Mason this season.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

…in relative order of occurrence…

1) Dionte Christmas scores only 3 points in Temple’s loss to Michigan State.

The Temple star carried his team through the final month of the season, including the A-10 Tournament. In fact, many people felt the inconstancy of Michigan State would bite the Spartans hard enough to spark the tournament’s typical 12 over 5-upset. Not so fast. While Temple kept it close for the first eight minutes, Michigan State relied on a team effort predicated on second chances on offense and eliminating extra shots on defense. While the recent run from the Owls was fun while it lasted, nobody should be upset with a phenomenal Saturday-matchup in the Midwest pitting 4-seeded Pittsburgh (who manhandled Oral Roberts) against the aforementioned 5-seeded Spartans.

2) How many of you were 7 of 8 (or better) after the afternoon’s slate of games?

Unless you were upset-heavy with your sheets of integrity, the only real toughie might’ve been overreaching on Kent State (guilty) or perhaps not trusting the likes or Purdue (with Baylor as an opponent though?). Fortunately, most people didn’t have Kent State going too far (whew); however, any Sweet Sixteen runs for Temple may come back to haunt you.

3) How many of you were sweating out the second-half of the Xavier/Georgia game big-time?

Xavier has been the “sleeper” of nearly every major-media pundit I could listen to over the past few weeks. Despite two hiccups late in the season against the Red Hawks of St. Joe’s, the Musketeers netted a 3-seed and an enticing road that led to a potential Sweet 16-matchup against the Dookies. Things seemed a little bleak (except for UGA) when the Bulldogs took a 12-point second-half lead. Yet, as I predicted during my live streaming, Georgia went sour in the second-half and Xavier (unlike Mississippi State or Arkansas in the SEC Tourney) turned on the gas and throttled the Bulldogs in the second-half. Xavier’s complete dominance at the free-throw line, specifically attempts (which Pay, who saw the game in person, was skeptical about), was the nail in the coffin of the feel-good-SEC-story.

4) How many Masters commercials have you seen today?

A Tradition Unlike Any Other…”. Even as a golf fan, I had more than enough of these ads at 2:30 pm (and I was teaching at the time!). Which vintage Masters-moment do you expect to see more: Tiger hugging his dad after his first Masters victory or Phil Mickelson’s “fatty-jump” after his infamous-putt on 18 to win his first Masters? I think I just used the words “vintage” and “infamous” when referring to golf on this blog (Pay is gonna KILL me!).

5) Which non-upset bit you the most?

If you took Portland State over Kansas or Miss. Valley State over UCLA…sit down and don’t open your mouth again. However, I saw a bracket or two that actually took Cornell over Stanford (ouch), countless Mason supporters were prophesizing gloom and doom for the Irish, UNLV & A&M weren’t given too much love, and PLENTY experts and fans alike liked the potential of upstart conference tourney champs Georgia and Temple continuing their runs. Either way, it hurts. If you lost an Elite Eight team tonight though…you’re likely in trouble.

6) Brook Lopez scores 4 points and Trent Johnson couldn’t he happier. Seriously?

Stanford went up 22-11 in the first half and cruised the entire way. Sinking their threes at nearly 50%, the Cardinal only required 4 points from their All-America center. Why is this such a good thing? Because Brook Lopez’s stature, as well as his ability, can be an intimidating presence with or without putting the ball in the basket. Saturday offers a real treat when the size and strength of Stanford is pitted against the team speed and penetration of Marquette. Me likey very much.

7) Mayo v. Beasley I. What’d you think?

After Beasley netted two fouls before the under-16 timeout, it became the Bill Walker show. With 9 early points, the red shirt freshmen reminded more than a few of us his amazing potential (and likely 1st-round status, if healthy come draft-time). Meanwhile, foul trouble hit the Trojans; however, it was Taj Gibson, not OJ Mayo, who it engulfed early in the second half. Mayo and USC weathered a few runs, made one or two of their own, yet KSU seemed to hold a 4-5 point lead for the majority of the game. Admittedly, as pumped as I was for this game, the Belmont/Duke-affair took my attention for quite some time (remember, the final 30 seconds in a college basketball game takes 57 minutes). In the final ten minutes of this particular game, thanks to DVR enlightening me, the Wildcats overcame anything and everything the Trojans could throw at them (they were stone cold from the field, in all fairness), as Beasley notched his typical double-double (23 and 11) and the Wildcats further proved their 11-seed was one of the selection’s committees most grievous errors (Illinois State, anyone?).

8) NIT Scheduling?

Isn’t it odd the NIT has games going on tonight? As a ‘Cuse fan (ugh), I was surprised to see we: a) beat Maryland b) were in fact, playing tonight. I understand the logistics of traveling and formatting this tournament around the NCAAs, but why schedule 2nd-round games the same night as opening night for March Madness? It’s almost as perplexing as ABC putting out the final Lost, for over a month, tonight. (Plug!)

9) Belmont Tigers are from ???

It wasn’t until an idiotic “hustle-foul” from Kyle Singer – and the two resulting free throws from a 91% free-throw shooter – that I started to wonder if the Atlantic Sun champions could become the media’s next tournament darlings. No better way for Belmont to achieve such a feat than to be the 5th 15-seed to win a game in tournament history (then CAA-Richmond over Syracuse in ’91 being the first)…over the Dookies no less! Belmont had a lead as late as 15 seconds to go; however, you’ve probably seen the highlight of Gerald Henderson (who scored the last eight points for the Blue Devils) going coast to coast to give Duke a 1-point lead. Shades of last season galore! Unfortunately, for the Duke-haters, Belmont fumbled a possession away on an errant inbound and then missed a half-court heave by mere inches. It was oh so close. It also proved just how hard it is for a 15-seed to take out a 2-seed, especially Duke. While I enjoyed hearing Eric Maynor’s name throughout the game, I was ready for some new history to be written by one of the Tigers. Oh well. Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, Belmont is in Tennessee. In fact, it’s the largest Catholic university in the state.

10) Late Night Thoughts…

Admit it, you’re gonna say you dozed off in the recliner at work tomorrow. Trying to prop up your fanhood (or whatever the four-letter network calls it). Truth is: you went to bed at 10pm. You didn’t expect any late night fireworks. You were tired and wanted to save your energy for surviving Friday at work and then feasting on the final 32-teams all weekend. Wimp. So what did you miss?

-Arizona and WVU battled back and forth and back and forth. None of the impact stars did much before the half; however, the story of the second half was WVU maintaining a 7-point lead nearly throughout (despite their star-player not having a strong night). Leading 69-61 near the 2-minute mark, the Mountaineers executed in the clutch hitting shot after shot on their way to the W.
-Notre Dame came out lighting up three after three against Mason. At one point, Patriot fans were faced with the best and worst of scenarios: Will Thomas had 25 of their 41 points and Folarin Campbell was 1-12 from the field (0-4 3-point). With a 16-point lead near the 10 minute-mark, Mason needed more than fairy dust to maintain Cinderella-status. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t arrive tonight, as the CAA’s lone representative bowed out far too early for this blog.
-UCLA annihilated and all but destroyed their 16th-seed opponent Mississippi Valley State. The good news is that Jerry Rice is still an alum of the university, no matter how much they lost by.
-#3-seed Wisconsin was far from impressive as they failed to break away from Cal State-Fullerton in the first half, nor the second. Both teams shot around 35% for the majority of the game, until a 15-3 run keyed Wisconsin to a baker’s dozen-point lead and entrance into an interesting showdown against Beasley (and Walker) of Kansas State on Saturday. Some of us might be regretting picking a Final Four-appearance for the Badgers (just maybe).

And there you have it. 10 thoughts/illuminations/rants/raves/whine sessions…etc.
It’s now time to drift off to sleep, at 1 am, and return to the madness tomorrow.
After work for me.

Thanks again to Armin for all the help with streaming today.
We’ll be at it again tomorrow!

Until then…

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