16 to go.
Some first weekend of the tournament. Or week, I guess, with the new First Four games. The NCAA thinks it’s being sneaky, but it’s pretty obvious that we’ll have another tournament expansion sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of logistics, mostly securing sites for an additional weekend of games. But it’s happening. Two years from now, I bet. I’m really going out on a limb there, aren’t I?
I’ve always said the week between the round of 32 and Sweet 16 is the best of the tournament, if your school advances. So obviously I’m happy with how things have gone thus far. That’s all I’m saying for now.
For the most part, the expansion of the TV component of the tournament has been great. Switching among four games at a time was fabulous Thursday and Friday. And it gave America what we wanted: a chance to watch both North Carolina and Duke without any other games being on at the same time to ruin the experience. Sure, Notre Dame-Florida State didn’t tip off until nearly 10:00 pm Eastern time, but that’s a small price to pay for not being bothered with regional blackouts or highlights while the Carolina schools were playing, right?
There were two big downsides to having games on networks other than CBS, though. First was the unfamiliarity with the teams by many of the TBS/TNT announcers. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr had the Tulsa games, and they spent Friday and Sunday spouting the same PR notes over and over. Marv, who is a broadcast legend, seemed only passingly aware of who some of the players were. And how many times did he say “The Marcus twins, Markieff and…..er…..Marcus…”? I know they can be tough to distinguish if you haven’t watched a ton of KU games, but come on!
The worst thing, though, was the production quality. It was clearly the same production teams that handle the NBA on TNT. We were “treated” to lengthy views from cameras deep in the corners of the arena (something ESPN is guilty of, too), above the backboard, or from the opposite end of the court and floor level. It’s one thing to give you a view from a different perspective for five, ten seconds as a possession begins. But showing entire, 35 second possessions from an angle that gives you no idea what is going on is horrible. Between that and the 17 minute commercial breaks mandated by the NCAA, it sometimes feels like the networks hate the fans.
Biggest story of the first weekend was not the large number of upsets, which really wasn’t all that surprising when we knew after the top 5-7 teams everyone was pretty much equal. It was the Butler-Pittsburgh game. Specifically the two late fouls, which took some of the luster off what was a fantastic game. I’ve always been a “If it’s a foul in the first minute of the game, it’s a foul in the last minute of the game” guy. Sure, you let the players play, but you don’t swallow the whistle when there is a foul just because time is running out.
The two fouls called in the closing seconds of the Butler game were a little weak, but when you saw the replays, you say that either one was not a foul. Shelvin Mack fouled Gilbert Brown. Matt Howard was clearly grabbed across the arm when he caught the missed free throw. Both fouls. Both correct calls. Nothing controversial about either one, unless you think referees should only call obvious fouls in the final seconds.
Big time credit to Jamie Dixon and all the Pittsburgh players for handling the loss with class and respect and not railing against the referees. Pittsburgh has had a very difficult time in the tournament over the last decade, and it would have been easy to lash out.
Another game I wanted to highlight is the Kansas State-Wisconsin game. Jacob Pullen was fantastic. It’s fun to listen to how different KU fans react to him. Some hate him because he used to run his mouth a little and was a one-dimensional player, asked just to shoot when he was surrounded by a better supporting cast. I don’t fall into that camp. I’ve watched him grow up and develop into a fantastic, well-rounded player. In fact, it was tough to watch him Saturday and not think that’s what Sherron Collins should have been doing last year, had he been able to keep his weight down.
Pullen competes his ass off every minute he’s on the court, which no matter what uniform he wears, I admire. In some ways, he reminds me of Clarence Gilbert, another player who, when he arrived at Missouri, ran his mouth a little and was one-dimensional. But over time, I came to respect Clarence’s game. Especially when he was a senior and forced to run the point, a position he was ill-suited for at the D1 level. But he would put his head down and work as hard as he could to get his team into their offense. And no matter the score, Clarence was always working. He never had the kind of relationship with the KU players that Pullen seems to have, which certainly doesn’t hurt how I view Pullen. And I think Pullen is a much better player than Gilbert was. But my evolution in feeling towards them is similar.
Does any team fit the stereotype of their program better than Wisconsin? Bunch of lanky, floppy haired white dudes; heady, old-man game having black dudes; jump shooting; tough defending; nothing pretty about them. Not sure how they won that game.
Washington has no one to blame but themselves for their loss to North Carolina. Absolutely killed themselves with unforced turnovers and poor shot selection in the last five minutes of their game.
Shocked by the scores from Chicago last night. That Super Moon must have somehow been amplified at the United Center.
I missed the end of the Texas-Arizona game, but that was a crazy ending as well. I think Arizona is on their way back as one of the game’s elite programs. I doubt Derrick Williams will be back, but Sean Miller has been cleaning up in recruiting. I remember scratching my head when they hired him, since he seemed like a solid east coast guy. But it was an inspired decision and looks like the absolutely correct one.
I have a friend who went to Duke. We haven’t spoke in 3-4 years because of distance, kids, schedules, etc. Suddenly hear from him after Kyrie Irving played on Friday, telling me everyone is just playing for second place. There’s a typical Dukie for you!