It was a busy day. I laughed, I cried, I yelled, I cheered, and my favorite team took out my heart and stomped on it before returning it to my chest. This is what I remember from the past 13 hours of chaos.
Fans? Where are the fans?
What’s the deal with March Madness fans? The empty stadiums for early games in New Orleans and Oklahoma City were shocking. I thought I was watching a Sixers game (albeit on a special promotion night). Rhode Island (providence) finally came through and nearly filled the Dunkin Donuts Center for their early game – further proving that all big sporting events should take place in the northeast. However, all of the arenas were dead quiet for most of the afternoon despite the close games. It was so bad that you could hear the whistles echo, a cheerleader’s every word, and the shoes squeaking on the floor sounded like they were in digital surround. I would love to spend a day at one of those arenas for March Madness. Apparently I’m in the minority.
Upsets, Upsets, then More Upsets
Tight games were endless today. Of the 16 first round games, seven were decided in the final seconds of regulation or overtime (including one buzzer-beater), another went to double overtime, and we were treated to six upsets that eliminated two or three legitimate Elite Eight contenders. That’s a crazy day. To top it all off, a number two seed nearly laid the biggest egg in Philadelphia postseason history since the Birds fell to the Bucs in the final game at the Vet. I told my dad I was emotionally spent after the first three games. It was 3:00PM ET on the first day of March Madness and I needed a two mile walk with my pregnant wife to calm my nerves and rein in my emotions for the next nine hours of basketball. That’s never happened on the first day.
So, in addition to excitement and suspense, what do all the upsets mean? Well, brackets are toasted –my brother-in-laws went up like napalm, Elite Eight berths are completely up for grabs, and Friday’s underdogs just lost their greatest advantage; the element of surprise. That’s right. Friday’s heavyweights are undoubtedly being treated to a heavy dosage of Georgetown, Vanderbilt, and Villanova footage before curfew tonight. All three of those teams clearly overlooked their opponents. You can’t convince me otherwise. Friday upsets -at least significant upsets- will be as likely as the Marriage Ref seeing a second season.
The Big East took a Big Beating.
Ok, Ok, so I raved about the Big East earlier this week. Maybe I jinxed them. My bad. I’m not too upset though. As much as I love the Big East, I wasn’t expecting much from the three conference losers today. According to my bracket, I had both Marquette and Notre Dame losing today anyway. I also picked Georgetown to lose to Tennessee in round two. Today’s events didn’t do too much damage, at least to my bracket. Now, if Villanova were to lose, I would be inconsolable right now. Not only are they my favorite team, but I have them in the final (gulp).
You laugh, go ahead. Today’s events will send the Wildcats down one of two roads. Road One: They realize how bad they are and simply mail it in. If not in round two against St. Mary’s, then they’ll get slaughtered by Baylor. Road Two: Villanova finally got slapped around bad enough to clear the fuzzies out of their collective head. Their bracket is a cakewalk, especially now. St. Mary’s. Baylor. Duke. That’s the easiest draw to the Final Four of any team in the tournament. It’s definitely doable. Scottie Reynolds got his tournament stinker game out early, as did the two Corey’s (Fisher and Stokes, not Feldman and Haim [RIP]). Furthermore, Robert Morris may have finally accomplished what Jay Wright has been unable to do for nearly a month; knock Villanova out of their funk.
Speaking of funk, the officials from the Nova game today were atrocious. My brother and I have complained endlessly about the bogus traveling call against Allen Ray in Villanova’s 2005 Sweet 16 battle vs. North Carolina. The bogus call cost Villanova a spot in the Elite Eight as UNC went on to win their first title under Roy Williams. The call was awful (see it here), and my brother and I were devastated for years. Today I told my brother we may never be able to mention that travel again…ever. My local Wildcats got some generous calls (ok, the officials obviously had them in their Final Four), but Nova still hit their free throws down the stretch and found a way to salvage the win. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t encouraging. It may not have even been fair. But a win is a win, and in March, that’s all that matters. So long, Allen Ray traveling call. My brother and I will miss you.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, even collapses…and stupidity
My decision to put Texas into the Elite Eight over Kentucky was a direct result of group think. The group; me, distrust of Kentucky me, and belief in late season resurgence me. Obviously, all three are idiots. I watched Texas quite often early in the season. They were smooth, athletic, and looked unbeatable. Then they tanked…hard. The NCAA tournament offers new life and a clean slate. I thought Texas would embrace the opportunity and rise to the occasion.
Instead, Rick Barnes and his Longhorns teased me by fighting back from a 12 point second half deficit only to choke away an 8 point lead with less than two and a half minutes remaining in overtime. How does that happen? Poor defense (surrendering a wide open three when up four), poor basketball IQ (point guard giving up the ball to a big man in an intentional foul situation), and finally, complete and utter failure (bricking two free throws that would have extended the lead to three with less than ten seconds to go).
More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson; don’t be stupid. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Texas was a clearly a duck. I’m the only moron that thought they were a golden goose.
What a horrible way to end a great day. Only the anticipation of Gus Johnson eases the pain.