In March, there are no beauty points, nor any to reason to apologize for advancing. Nor does the regular season, comparing scores and schedules, RPI-based method of deciding who is better come into play. The team that looks awesome one night puts up a dud the next and gets sent home. Winning ugly is better than the alternative.
To say this was one of KU’s least impressive performances in recent tournaments would be fair. But it was still good enough to win two games and send them to the Sweet 16.
After the win Friday, I said I would be fine with any result after that. Getting an NCAA win was the final piece of this year’s puzzle. The final validation was beating a pesky 14 seed, and no matter what rival fans or people who just like to kick you when you’re down might say should the Jayhawks have fallen in the round of 32, it would have been a great year.
Now, though, they get to keep playing. I think I write every year that the Sweet 16 is my favorite week of the tournament. Assuming you make it, of course. There’s still work to be done, but the odds start to get better. You’ve already won two games. Why not win two more? And then two more after that? The big task seems far less daunting. It’s still wide open, but we’ve narrowed the picture a bit. Everyone left is a legitimate contender. It’s a fun week.
Not that I’m seriously thinking that far ahead. This weekend was just confirmation of what the last three weeks had told us: when Sherron and Cole are on, we’re tough to beat. They got no help this weekend, but thanks to an upset on the other side of the bracket, it ended up being enough. It’s hard to rationally talk about how good those two were this weekend. They made just about every big play that we needed from them. Throw in the first recorded triple double in KU history, and it was a pretty good for Cole in his old stomping grounds.*
(What the hell was wrong with the Dayton players? I understand they’re a slashing team and not one of shooters. But after about the fifth blocked shot, don’t you start pulling up before you get within Cole’s reach, or maybe throw a head fake or two? Dumb.)
Now KU fans have to be hopeful that all the freshmen got their bed wetting out of the way this weekend. I think the opponent Friday will be a big help. They all remember what it was like for Michigan State to pummel us for about 18 minutes back in January. They also remember how, when everyone started focusing, playing defense, hitting the boards, and running the offense, we got it down to a three possession game, and were a in-and-out three by Sherron from cutting it to a two possession game. MSU’s been up-and-down all year. They looked bad in the Big 10 tournament a week ago. Looked solid this weekend. But our guys shouldn’t he afraid of them, as perhaps would be the case if we were playing Pitt or Louisville or someone unfamiliar like that Friday.
In fact, a quick look at the computer numbers show KU to be a slight favorite Friday. Vegas will say different, I expect. But if KU comes out prepared to play as a team for 40 minutes, Michigan State is ripe for the picking.
Best of all, in a year that’s been all about celebrating last year while preparing for the future, the Baby Jays get a great learning opportunity. No matter the result Friday, the players that return next season will be better for it.
My brackets are a mixed bag. I have 12 of the 16 teams remaining in the one money pool I’m in. One fewer in the two fun pools I’m in.**
(I sent Mizzou through to the Sweet 16 in the money pool, since that seemed like the smart move. In the fun pools, I picked both with my heart and the belief they would be playing Utah State in a de facto road game. Mizzou was not good on the road this year, it made sense since no money was at stake. Oh well.)
But, I butchered the first round and am well down the list in each pool.
Speaking of team’s having home games in the tournament, I enjoyed all the whining out of Westwood about UCLA having to play Villanova in Philadelphia. Funny, I didn’t hear any complaining during the Bruins’ three straight Final Fours when, despite being the #2 seed, they got to play regional finals in California two of those years against teams from the South/Midwest (Memphis in ’06, KU in ’07). I didn’t hear them complaining when they didn’t have to leave California at all in ’07 before the Final Four. But God forbid you force them to play by those rules…
I guess John Feinstein had a nasty column over the weekend about how the NCAA needs to scrap the pod system because all these odd low seeds keep getting de facto home games against top seeded teams. I want him to write the column saying the NCAA needs to stop putting tournament games in North Carolina every year so that Duke and UNC always have home court.***
(Miracle of miracles, there are no opening round or regional games in the Tarheel state next year. I’m sure the following year they’ll get both again, so either Duke or UNC spends two weeks traveling about 50 total miles.)
There’s no perfect system. It’s always been part of the tournament that the best teams are rewarded by playing close to home. Way back in the day, places like Allen Fieldhouse and Pauley Pavillion hosted games with their regular occupants often playing. Some teams will always get screwed. Good teams, teams deserving of playing for the national title, overcome these obstacles. If they don’t, they obviously weren’t worthy. And it all balances out over time. Good teams will get a favorable seeding or two, and other years they’ll have to go play someone in an inconvenient location. Deal with it.
The greatest thing about this year’s tournament? March Madness On Demand works like a charm. Last year the picture was choppy, locked up constantly, and generally looked like a very early TV experiment. I watched both the KU games this weekend in full screen, with great resolution, perfect audio, and no lock ups at all. Better, there was none of that dumb signing up early or waiting room nonsense of past years. Turn on your computer, find the site, select your game, and watch. Perfect. Well done, CBS and NCAA.
I secretly enjoy the Jordan commercials. Wish adidas was running their Brotherhood commercials more often.
We’ll talk more about these things later this week.