Weekend in Review/Weekend Ahead

Editor’s Note: Needless to say, my bracket is pretty much a train wreck (see what I did with the picture?! see that?!). But, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some valuable things to learn from the first weekend, or that we can’t apply some of that knowledge to what should be a solid conclusion to regional play starting on Thursday. 

First Round

Results: 21-11. Ok, for a day as weird as Friday ended up being, you could say that record isn’t entirely terrible. But when you consider that I lost a total of 6 out of my Sweet 16 picks in the round of 64…..well that’s just not what you look for. Not to mention that I scared the crap out of myself so much with the West Region (evidence can be found here: http://jaywalking33.com/2012/03/13/ncaa-tournament-megapreview/) that I decided to make some really irrational upset picks that sounded like a lot of fun at the time. The end result: a self-fulfilling prophecy that saw zero of my Sweet 16 picks actually advance to that round (Missouri, Memphis, Long Beach State, Murray State….yikes). Not a great first round for me, but it was still great television for everyone else.

East Region: Easily the biggest memory from the first round out of here was the epic battle between Syracuse and the University of North Carolina………Asheville (jokes on jokes). I can safely say that I have never been in an environment where the people I was watching with were so attached to a game without any shred of vested interest. From the opening tip-off to the very end, we were clapping with each Asheville bucket, or groaning in dismay with each positive play from the ‘Cuse. Towards the end, we were actually screaming. Maybe we saw what we wanted to see with some of the 50/50 calls in the second half, but one thing that cannot be debated was that no one outside the state of New York got the result they wanted. It was a great game, and makes it apparent that it’s only a matter of time before a one seed falls in the first round.

South Region/West Region: Again, this was a pretty easy call with the huge upsets of Missouri (that feels good to say) and Duke. A 15 over a 2 had only happened four times in tournament history but to get it twice on the same day made it that much more unbelievable. Personally, I have never been so happy to see my bracket destroyed as when Missouri’s final chance at a tie went amiss. But I’ll try to keep the bias out of it. At the same time, you have to give Norfolk State and Lehigh some credit. Norfolk beat Missouri at its own game. They shot the ball very well, scored a lot of points, and got great guard play. And in the other game, CJ McCollum was an absolute star. He led his team in the truest possible sense and looked like one of the best players in the tournament in the process. Look for him to lead the nation in scoring next season.

Midwest Region: There were three really solid upsets in the first round out of the Midwest, making for some very fun basketball to watch for the casual fan such as myself. NC State and South Florida advancing were somewhat unexpected, and then we got the big one with Ohio advancing over Big 10 regular season co-champ Michigan. John Bielein has done an incredible job at building that program during his tenure, but this team just wasn’t ready yet. Better days are certainly ahead.

Second Round

Results: 6-10 (holy shit). Yeah, this is where that combination of bad upset picks, and unanticipated upset games really came to bite me in the ass. Losing Georgetown was a bit of a bummer, especially after watching a Kansas team (who they would’ve played had they beaten NC State) that looks a little bit vulnerable when defenses overload on Thomas Robinson and force the Jayhawk guards to win the game with jump shots.* Losing Vanderbilt in its hard fought game with Wisconsin also didn’t feel great. I thought this team, if it was firing on all cylinders, had a legit shot to challenge for a berth in the Final Four, leaving a pretty sour taste in my mouth.

*For as bad as Kansas played at times, you also have to give Matt Painter a ton of credit for putting together an incredible game plan for stagnating Kansas’ offense, and even more up’s to Robbie Hummel for playing out of his mind in the first half. What a college player. 

East Region: There weren’t any buzzer beaters, but three out of the four games were really solid ones. Gonzaga’s backcourt showed a TON of promise in a really tough loss.* Wisconsin showed why they will be a tough out for Syracuse, and Cincinnati beat Florida State in the type of grind it out, defensive battle the ‘Noles normally win. But the moment that I will be taking away from the second round of this region is Kansas State forward Jamar Samuels’ career being called to a premature end by the NCAA for a pretty minor rules violation. I guess they were right to enforce the rules here, and maybe Syracuse still wins this game even with Samuels in. But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. The eligibility rule book is in a dire need for some change, and quick. Nobody is winning in this current situation right now.

*Bulldog freshmen Kevin Pangos (people are calling him the best Canadian point guard prospect since Steve Nash) and Gary Bell Jr. are going to be absolute stars for Mark Few for the next three years. And Deshaun Thomas for Ohio State has emerged as one of the top young scorers in the country. He has really come on for Thad Matta and should warrant some pre-season All-America consideration if he doesn’t leave early. 

South Region: Seeing Xavier recover from the early season brawl with Cincinnati that could have easily killed their season is my favorite storyline from the first weekend in the South region. How this school has been able to get it done year in and year out, as a mid major, with coaches always seeming to exit for higher profile jobs (from Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller) is pretty incredible. They needed a late season rally to sneak into the tournament, but now that they’ve had their chance, its been pretty fun to see them take advantage of it. Tu Holloway is one of the best players in the country that not many people know about.

West Region: While Florida’s dominating play is a worthy runner-up, the easy story line from out west for me has been the incredible play of Draymond Green. He’s been an absolute stud the entire season, but he’s seemed to have taken it up to an other-worldly notch in the past few games (20 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 8 apg). He has been the most valuable player of the tournament so far and Michigan State is the runaway favorite to advance to the Final Four out of the west because of the way Green has been playing. Plus, he is the model example of the merits of staying all four years at a program. Seeing a player develop on a consistent, yearly basis the way he has is so much fun to watch.

Midwest Region: Playing a team with nothing to lose, against a player who can’t miss, your own key players going silent on the offensive end, missing open threes, and missing important free throws. For the last several years or so, these types of things have been all too familiar to Kansas fans in losses that always seem to bring great seasons to terribly disappointing ends. And for awhile (pretty much for 37 minutes) in its second round game against Purdue, Kansas fans had to brace themselves for another loss to a double digit seed for the exact same reasons mentioned above. But then, something happened. They fought through the tension, battled for all of the long rebounds, made key stops on defense, and made some very clutch plays on the offensive end. This was something that people weren’t used to seeing from a Kansas team with its back up against the wall in a tournament game. It still probably isn’t good that the Jayhawks were only able to prevail against an inferior Purdue team by three points. But at the same time, it does give people some hope for the future round(s). For now, Kansas can bask in the glow of winning an incredibly hard-fought game, against a team that refused to quit. For now at least.

Final damage from week one…..Overall record: 27-21….6 of my Sweet 16 picks still alive….4 of my Elite 8 picks still alive….3 of my Final Four picks still alive….National Runner-Up pick eliminated in the Round of 64….National Championship pick’s most indispensable player (Kendall Marshall) pretty much ineffective for the rest of the tournament with a broken wrist. Somebody get me a beer.

Regional Play Preview

Kentucky vs. Indiana: For people expecting a repeat of one of the best games of this regular season, you will be sorely disappointed. Kentucky is playing like the tournament favorite it deserves to be and its single liability, Marquis Teague, has really been picking up his play (posted a great line against Iowa State). Indiana will not have the home court advantage it had against Kentucky earlier this season. And for the amazing job Tom Crean has done at Indiana (he is at least one year ahead of the rebuilding schedule), the fact of the matter is the Hoosiers don’t have the talent, athleticism, anything to hang with Kentucky. Wildcats roll.

Baylor vs. Xavier: Xavier’s Tu Holloway is the type of star who can carry a team to victory all by himself. As much as I’d like to say that will happen here, I’m going to stick with my guns and stay with the south regional final I predicted at the beginning of the tournament of Kentucky vs. Baylor. Baylor has been playing too well for the last couple of weeks to falter against a team that doesn’t have the athleticism or depth the Bears have (that’s the hope at least). It could be a tight game…Xavier has found ways to stay in pretty much every tournament game I can ever remember watching them in. But look for Baylor to edge them out in this one.

Michigan State vs. Louisville: I think I proved in my previous column that I have a great feel for the game when I said there just isn’t something I like about this Michigan State team (kidding). While they still might be one of the historically weaker number one seeds in awhile, they are still a better team than Louisville in almost every phase of the game. The Cards do have an edge if Peyton Siva can play well, but look for Draymond Green and the rest of the Spartans to be too much for Louisville to handle. Sparty advances.

Marquette vs. Florida: To be quite honest, this absolutely will be the only game I’ll be having second thoughts about as soon as this goes live. Florida has been absolutely smoking their competition. Bradley Beal is playing so efficiently on offense. But its not like their competition has been stellar. And what worries me m0re, I’m still not sure if I can trust this Gators squad. I don’t know if Kenny Boynton is going to go cold, like he sometimes is prone to do. I’m not sure if Erving Walker is going to try to do too much on offense, rather than playing within the flow of the game, if his team is in a tight one. There isn’t much doubt that Florida is the more talented of the two teams. But, after a weekend of getting nailed for trying to do too much for picking the right upsets (and rightfully so), I am going to go with the team that I trust more. And that is Marquette.

Syracuse vs. Wisconsin: This is probably a toss-up, but I actually feel pretty comfortable picking Wisconsin to advance to the East Regional Final. Wiscy’s ability to control the tempo of the game will be a great detriment to Syracuse, who would rather exploit its elite athletes and get up and down the court. And for a team like Syracuse that emphasizes their ability to make the other team turn the ball over a lot, the fact that they will be going up against Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor makes matters even more difficult. While he may have regressed a little on offense this year, he still turns the ball over at a very low rate (in fact Wisconsin as a team rarely turns the ball over), and that should hurt the Orange quite a bit. Every possession is going to count in this one, and all that does is ensure that Syracuse will have that much less margin for error against Wisconsin’s stifling defense. While my Vanderbilt pick may be out the window, I am still expecting the same fate for Syracuse, simply at the hands of a different team. Out of all the games in this round, this is the one I am going to make sure I have the time to watch from start to finish. ‘Sconsin in a close one.

Ohio State vs. Cincinnati: Just like I said for Xavier a few paragraphs ago, Cincinnati making it this far into the tournament post-brawl is really pretty impressive. I don’t think Mick Cronin gets enough credit for the job he has done at that school, making it competitive once again after the Bob Huggins era. That being said, I think the Bearcats will really have their hands full with an Ohio State team that might be the new favorite to meet Kentucky in the national championship thanks to Kendall Marshall’s wrist. For me, this one is pretty simple. I think Ohio State is just a little tougher, a lot more talented, and very, very well coached. Buckeyes march on easily.

North Carolina vs. Ohio: Obviously, this is a less than ideal situation for the Heels. But if you could have a game to test out Kendall Marshall’s wrist or give Justin Watts a chance to get his feet wet and immerse himself in that offense in a tournament situation, Ohio is a pretty good team to do it against considering the circumstances. I think Roy Williams could play point guard for this team in the round of 16 and Carolina would still advance. Barring a huge upset, this game is about North Carolina finding a slightly new recipe for success because of their most important player’s injury. It’s about trying to prove they can still compete for a championship despite their current predicament. Tar Heels advance.

Kansas vs. North Carolina State: For good reason, Kansas will  be the heavy favorite in this game. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good contest. The Wolfpack have been playing with some kind of conviction since the very end of the regular season, into the ACC tournament, and now all the way into the deeper rounds of the NCAA tournament. Mark Gottfried has really done a great job righting the ship, and its not like this team is devoid of talent either. Lorenzo Brown has emerged as a star, and CJ Leslie is a legitimate post threat. I think the Jayhawks will come out really fired up to prove that their speedbump against Purdue was a fluke, and that will likely be the difference. But NC State will not go down without a fight.

Final conclusion to draw from the first weekend would be the injection of the musical stylings of Frank Ocean into the daily proceedings of the quad. This guy has got a really bright future ahead of him in the music industry and brings a level of intelligence to his music that you don’t really see very often from other artists. Be sure to check out his only release thus far in his young music career: Nostalgia, Ultra.

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