The least entertaining first round of the NCAA tournament in recent memory is in the books. There were some solid games, but a shockingly low number of upsets. And only a handful of “text all your friends and tell them to turn game X on immediately” moments.
KU rolled. Which was good. They did exactly what I expected them to do: look sloppy early then settle down and lay the wood. There are zero complaints after game one, other than the officiating. That was like high school officiating, where they know the game is a mismatch and generally try to get it over as quickly as possible. Devonte Graham getting destroyed on the final play of the first half and the ref standing right next to him doing nothing was just the worst example of a rough night for the zebras.
Which brings us to a non-KU point: in general refs seem to be letting the kids play. Which for the most part is good. But I’ve seen contact that has been a foul for the last four months go without a whistle time-and-again through the first two days. Players get upset, coaches get upset. Iowa State fans booing even when their team isn’t playing. I get it, no one wants to watch games where the best players are on the bench because of foul trouble. But while it’s one thing to relax things a little, it seems like we’ve gone way too far the other way. Of course, now that I’ve typed that, refs will probably be whistle-happy for the second round.
Back to KU, I think the big thing in the first game was to get guys who need a confidence boost some success so they’re ready to go for the next round. The team seemed to be making a concerted effort to get Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk shots. And he kept clanking wide-open looks. But then anytime he had to put the ball on the deck, or take an off-balance shot, he swished them. Weird, since he’s always been a much better spot-up shooter than one who could connect off the bounce. Regardless, for KU to go deep he’s going to have to hit some shots and I think last night helped. Carlton Bragg was another story. He’s a kid who just hasn’t been right all year. He should have dominated against the smaller UC Davis frontline last night and other than a couple strong rebounds, he continued to struggle. Maybe he was saving it for Sunday.
Because, just freaking great, Michigan State looked awesome against Miami. They have a ton of talent, but have never put it together consistently this season. But, man, did they look good Friday. Which brings us a round of 32 game between Tom Izzo, probably the best March coach in the game, and Bill Self, a guy who has certainly had his struggles in this round over the years. I had a doctor appointment yesterday morning and my blood pressure checked out just fine. I imagine that will not be the case Sunday.
There were a couple great games Friday. Oklahoma State – Michigan was spectacular. I know, neither team played much defense. But the offense was breath taking. Jawun Evans showing America what the Big 12 has known a long time. And then Michigan hit pretty much everything they threw up in the second half. It was back-and-forth fun for the full 40 minutes. Shame Evans missed that free throw late.
The other highly entertaining game was USC – SMU. It wasn’t quite as high level as OSU-UM, but there were a ton of athletes on the floor making plays the entire game. Big runs both ways. USC building some mystique as comeback kids. And some really curious decisions by SMU in the last minute to not let their best player touch the ball once on their final three possessions. The Mustangs lost in controversial fashion two years ago. Now they blew this game. Coincidence? Only the Hoops Gods know.
I missed the end of the Arkansas – Seton Hall game when I was out picking up the kids. Apparently there was some controversy there.
I only caught the latter part of Wichita State – Dayton, which was the complete opposite of OSU-UM on the same court earlier in the day. Just ugly ball, but the Wheat Shockers made all the plays late. I picked Dayton, thinking that while the Wheat Shockers are a good team, they’re not nearly as good as they were the past four years. Should they have been a 10-seed? No. But all this “They’re a four seed” talk is nonsense. Look who they played and beat this year. That’s not a 4-seed resume. But I guess they showed me. And with Kentucky having an unexpectedly tough time with Northern Kentucky, the rematch from three years ago in St. Louis could be something else tomorrow.
I’m already pretty sick of every commercial that is in high rotation. They now become harder to avoid as the games thin out and, often, there is just a single game at a time.
Current KU Mood: Glad we got the expected blowout in without any injuries. Not thrilled about playing the Fighting Izzos, but I think I’d rather play them than Miami. MSU has tons of talent, but as I said earlier, has been erratic all year. Are they righting into form, or was last night an aberration? I thought Michigan State was the more dangerous team because their ceiling is higher. But I also really liked the experienced vets vs. young kids angle this brings. And I think Miami, having beaten both Carolina and Duke this year, would enter the game with zero fear.
I never wrote about the national reaction to KU’s bracket, which I thought was interesting. Mark Titus listed KU as the team that got most screwed in the Midwest. You all know how I like Titus, and it’s firmly established that he watches about 99% of all televised college basketball. Plus he played, so I trust his opinion. Then I’ve read other writers say that KU has a cakewalk to the Final Four. Most of those are guys who don’t focus exclusively on college hoops, so I question their views. But the main writer for the Lawerence paper loved the way the bracket set up for KU in each round.
Those varying opinions don’t do much for my swinging emotions. At the moment I’m pretty steady and fairly confident about tomorrow. $20 says I’m in a very different place tomorrow.
We have dinner plans this evening, so I’ll miss a good chunk of the games. So we’ll see if I have enough thoughts to share tomorrow morning.