March Madness Update

Exciting? Sure.
Entertaining? Maybe.
Well played? Hardly.

From midday Thursday to late Sunday night, I stared at my Television, afraid to miss the signature moment of the weekend. Unfortunately, most of the games I watched were as ghastly and frightening as Christian Bale’s appearance in The Fighter.

I could spend hours discussing the sloppy play, low basketball IQ, and the foolish mistakes that plagued both winning and losing teams. For example, Villanova, for the second time in two games, surrendered a lead in the final minutes because they couldn’t hit free throws. Texas fell to Arizona after failing to inbound the ball within five seconds. Louisville did everything wrong in the biggest upset of round one. Pittsburgh and Butler redefined brain fart in the final seconds with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. Tennessee sent Bruce Pearl out in style – with a 30 point defeat. Bob Huggins had West Virginia launching contested 3’s with two minutes remaining in a game the Mountaineers only trailed by four. Syracuse got called for a backcourt violation in a tie game with less than a minute to go. The list goes on and on. (Feel free to share any I excluded.)

As you can see, the most frustrating events of the weekend occurred during the final possessions in close games. More specifically, offenses stalled. Generally, an effective offense consists of passing the ball, moving the defense, finding the open player, and hitting close to half of those quality looks. Apparently, this strategy changes in the final seconds to one player waiting for the clock to reach single digits before darting to the rim like a bat out of hell, completely unaware of the defense and his teammates around him.

Take Michigan. The Wolverines would have stretched Duke to overtime had Darius Morris noticed Tim Hardaway Jr. streaking to the rim without a defender within in three feet of him. Instead, Morris settled for an off-balance floater that missed. The same was true for Texas and J’Covan Brown. Similarly, Temple’s offense in overtime against San Diego State was essentially four guys running picks for a player the defense refused to allow to get open. Did Temple adjust? Of course not. Juan Fernandez settled for one bad shot after another.

From what I witnessed this weekend (and the collegiate season in general), players lock into an idea, a move, or a mode of attack and can’t adjust. It’s frightening. I love the NBA. While it’s undoubtedly a superstars’ league, the level of basketball is unmatched. The young men I watched this weekend will one day carry the torch in the NBA. Needless to say, I’m terrified.

Big (L)East
I am, or was, a Big East homer. Now I’m just embarrassed. After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East sent only two to the Sweet 16. What’s worse, the two that advanced beat fellow Big East schools, so the Big East essentially sent the minimum to the Sweet 16.

After breaking down the Big East’s performance, I realized two things. First, Big East teams don’t adjust when removed from the physical, grinding play of the Big East conference. Second, and Charles Barkley touched on this, the Big East has a lot of good players, but few great ones. Great players step up and lead their teams in March. Without top tier players, the Big East teams were sent home early. Obviously, it’s no coincidence UCONN is still playing. Kemba Walker is a top five player in college basketball this season.

Another telling sign the Big East was vastly overrated: Only Cincinnati, Villanova, and West Virginia were sent home as the lower seed. And Regardless of their seeding, I still consider Nova’s defeat to be an upset. There’s no reason a talented squad like Villanova should lose to a mediocre George Mason team. Therefore, aside from Cincinnati and WVU, every Big East team that was sent home lost to an underdog. That’s embarrassing, especially for a conference that isn’t shy about calling itself the country’s toughest conference.

Charles is bored
As I say often, I never miss an opportunity to catch Charles Barkley on TV. Sadly, I’ve never seen Barkley less animated. He looks disinterested, bored, and caged. On TNT, Barkley has free reign to take jabs at the NBA, TNT, his producers, his co-hosts, and anyone else he sees fit. The rules at CBS appear to be more restrictive, and God forbid anyone criticize the NCAA. Thankfully, Louisville’s loss allowed Rick Pitino to join the set, and he and Barkley have had some entertaining banter. Aside from that, though, Barkley looks eager to return to TNT’s studios for the NBA playoff run, or go home to sleep. I can’t tell which.

Jay Bilas
I’m not sure why Jay Bilas is missing, but it’s sad that the best analyst in college basketball was left out of the tournament this year. It probably had something to do with Turner Sports joining the March Madness party and Bilas’ contract with ESPN. Nonetheless, Bilas is great courtside, and the tournament felt different without him involved. Despite his absence, there were still some memorable announcing moments. Here are my favorite quotes from the first weekend;

“Oh boy, that dented the backboard.” – Announcer (not sure which one) during Cincinnati UCONN game after a brick.

“It’s ok to pump fake.”  – Reggie Miller after a heavily contested shot attempt in the Kansas State Wisconsin game.

As you can see, even the announcers were appalled by the level of play.

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