That’s March madness for you. Upsets, parody, and nothing going as its supposed to, ask Kansas, Villanova, Georgetown and others this weekend.
The last few NCAA tournaments went according to plan to well. Last years the team that was supposed to win did, two years ago there was straight chalk in the final as no one could stop UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina or Memphis (though according to the NCAA they were never there).
This tournament however has more than made up for the boredom of the last two tourneys. Look at the unheard of upsets:
Ohio over Georgetown 97-83, and it wasn’t that close. Ohio, a team that wasn’t even a NIT team two weeks ago dominated a team that was once in the top ten and hailed from the mighty Big East conference (more on that later).
St. Mary’s over Villanova 75-68, which honestly we should have seen coming given how pathetically, Villanova played down the stretch. St. Mary’s has been on a roll since the WCC tournament with wins over 3 ranked opponents (plus let’s not forget Omar Sanham. He’s averaging 30 points a game and shooting 67% in the tournament, if Duke does beat Purdue they better pray that Sanham isn’t waiting for them).
Cornell over both Temple and Wisconsin, and those games weren’t even close. Cornell looked like a nationally ranked power instead of a meek academic school that doesn’t even offer athletic scholarships.
Murray State over Vanderbilt 66-65. Honestly though, we all know that Vandy was overrated at a 4 (while Tennessee was at a 6, really?) but Murray State came out and beat up Vandy in a game that on paper seemed like a cakewalk for the SEC power.
Then there was Northern Iowa beating Kansas, how many of you ripped up your bracket after that devastating loss? It seems like a huge deal to most people, but let’s be real; Northern Iowa was on everyone’s radar all year. They were picked to be a bracket buster before the start of the year, and finished off the regular season 28-4 with a few stints in the top 25, this wasn’t Morgan State beating Iowa State or Santa Clara beating Arizona, this was an actual legitimate competitor that had an honest to god shot at beating Kansas. What happened to Kansas is what was truly weird. There was no cohesion, no sense of urgency, and no consistency. Sherron Collins, who saved the Jayhawks bacon all year long, was a no show, the Morris twins were ineffective and Tyshawn Taylor had no business being on the floor after awhile.
If you watched Kansas at all this year then you would know that this is how they play, they fade from time to time such as games against Cornell and Texas A&M, but they wake up just in time to pull it out. This time however, that was not the case. Northern Iowa was dominant all game and just when it seemed like the Jayhawks would do the inevitable, a guy named Ali Farokmanesh put his name alongside Tyus Edney, Bryce Drew and others. That 3 he took was not only stupid, and untimely, it was gutsy as hell. 30 seconds, up one, and attempting a 3 pointer? If he missed that shot he might as well should’ve stayed in the arena and not gone back to campus, but he made it, and here we are.
Now that Kansas is gone the question is who is the favorite? That would lie in Kentucky’s favor after two fantastic performances this weekend with Syracuse second and Ohio State third.
Syracuse is intriguing because of the status of Arinze Onuaku (though you wouldn’t have known it after that Gonzaga dismantling). The Cuse have been a favorite since late January, but they’re now a 6 man team with Onuaku inactive. The most dominant team in the Big East is possibly looking at a Big 6 free run to the final 4 if they beat Butler and Xavier beats Kansas State. A Syracuse appearance in the final four would help the Big East lick their wounds after an embarrassing showing in the tourney.
(which reminds me, how embarrassing was this tournament for the super conference? They were the premier conference in the land, coming off a year where they had 3 No.1 seeds, two final four teams, be and had a handful of players up for player of the year honors and all-American consideration. Then look what happened: Scottie Reynolds developed an acute case of scariness that will cost him in the draft; Luke Harangody was a shell of his Player of the year self against Old Dominion, and Louisville forgot it had a game against Cal and got ran out of the building. In order for the Big East to regain some type of respectability Syracuse and West Virginia have to make the final 4 and finish strong in those games. If not then next year the Big East becomes the big joke in college basketball.)
Then there is Ohio State or as I call them Evan Turner and the Buckettes. It’s a one man gang with a bunch of tag-alongs, yet here is Ohio State, two games away from the final four. Problem is Tennessee, their next opponent, is tougher than Georgia Tech mentally. The Vols shouldn’t even be in the tournament following the drama behind Tyler Smith and the regular season, yet here they are still standing and ready for war. Wayne Chism might be a little too much for Dallas Lauderdale to handle, but no one in the country is as good as Evan Turner. Turner, who should be player of the year, can carry this team as far as it can go and that might be all the way to Indianapolis.
Whatever happens next week, it better be a hell of an encore, this weekend brought the Madness back to March. Guys like Dale, Sanham and Farokmanesh are heroes while highly acclaimed guys like Damion James, Greivis Vasquez and Derrick Favors are now afterthoughts. Who knows what to expect starting Thursday, just know it’s going to be even more intense with final four spots at stake, and the national title up for grabs.
Revised final 4: Ohio State, Syracuse, West Virginia, St. Mary’s (yeah I know, but it could happen)