Due to being busy and having other writing obligations to fulfill, I sadly didn’t write an NCAA tournament preview. My main interests are in NFL and MMA, but basketball will always be a part of me. It was my first love and the NCAA tournament is the greatest invention in sports.
The unpredictability and uniqueness of the tournament is proven every year. Usually I don’t get fully interested in college basketball until January when the conference games begin. Conference games truly prove if a team is worthy of an NCAA tournament spot with the tribulations of playing on the road in hostile environments against quality competition.
I’m mostly a power conference follower, but the emergence of the A-10 and Gonzaga’s dominance had me watching the “mid-majors” this season. Since I’m a diehard St. John’s fan, it’s another year of being able to enjoy the tournament for what it is. I still miss that 2011 St. John’s team to this day.
With so many games going on, I’ll break down the tournament into two categories of what has stood out the most so far. We’ve seen some major upsets and clutch performances so far. It’s the usual combination that makes the tournament so exciting. I’ll start with the negatives before the positives.
The Worst Of The 2013 NCAA Tournament
Once again, Georgetown is making an early exit from the NCAA tournament.
Georgetown Continues To Flop
It always seems like Georgetown is a trendy pick to go to the Final Four. They play in the most competitive conference in the Big East, which gives people a vibe that they can go all the way. Unfortunately for Georgetown, they’ve once again been eliminated early in the tournament.
In 2010, they were a third seed and lost to Ohio in the first round. In 2011, they were a sixth seed and lost to VCU in the first round. They made minor progress in 2012 as a third seed, but lost to NC State in the round of 32. After years of disappointment, were they finally going to get over the hump as a second seed?
It wasn’t the case and they were soundly defeated by Florida Gulf Coast. They couldn’t keep up with their fast pace and crafty ball movement. Georgetown has dealt with scoring issues this season and it showed once again. Despite Otto Porter’s brilliance, he simply wasn’t getting enough support.
He was swarmed through out the game, which led to him going 5 for 17 from the field. Other than Markel Starks, Georgetown hasn’t really had any true consistent scorers. They relied on defense for their success, but you can’t shoot thirty seven percent and expect to win. It was another early exit for Georgetown and there has to be questions about John Thompson III going forward.
Refs Miscues May Lead To New Review Rules
I’m always going to try to avoid talking about officiating because games should be affected by performance. That being said, the refs have been abysmal so far in the tournament. Some refs have struggled to tell a part from a charge to an actual blocking foul. There were two major moments that the refs clearly got wrong.
It was heavily discussed that Iowa State’s Will Clyburn should have been rewarded the chance for a three point play with under two minutes to play against Ohio State. It could have potentially put Iowa State up four. The call was a charge, despite Aaron Craft being partially in the restricted area. It wasn’t as blatant as the next decision I’m bringing up next, but the basket should have counted.
The next major incident was near the end of the Illinois versus Miami. Illinois was down two with a minute left and should have been rewarded possession, after Kenny Kadji clearly knocked the ball out of bounds. It was a terrible call that shouldn’t have happened with possession going to Miami. Illinois has every right to feel robbed.
We can only hope that the refs improve going into the Sweet 16 and beyond. In the future, they need to have better official review rules. They can review potential flagrant fouls, yet they can’t review who touched the ball last. Let’s hope they use actual logic and fix the official review rules for next year.
Gonzaga’s Early Demise
It doesn’t matter what competition you face, if you don’t lose for two months in college basketball then that’s pretty remarkable. Gonzaga did that and showed enough to be a number one seed. Then they flopped on the big stage and proved that all the naysayers were right.
Gonzaga struggled from the beginning by edging Southern University. They were missing good looks and weren’t executing like they have been all season. With consistent scorers like Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Kevin Pangos, it seemed like they were going to be unstoppable in a weak region.
Then we saw the likes of New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Kansas State get eliminated early. Everything seemed to fall in place for Gonzaga, but they simply came out flat and paid for it. Even when they went on mini runs against Wichita State, they never looked smooth or fully confident.
Of course, you have to give credit to the tough shots that Wichita State hit. There is a crossing line though for a defense and allowing 14 three-pointers is unacceptable. Gonzaga shot only 35 percent as well missing many good looks in the paint and in three-point range. After their early exit, it’s safe to say that non-power conference schools will have a tough time earning a number one seed regardless of their success in the future.
West Region Destruction
If you haven’t had to put mostly incorrect marks in the West region, then you must have completely guessed on your bracket. The West region has been filled with massive upsets and it was close to having a sixth seed being the highest remaining seed left if it wasn’t for Aaron Craft’s game winner.
Wisconsin was a trendy pick to upset Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. With their experience and ability to play tough defense, people were major believers in Wisconsin. They forced Ole Miss into shooting 38 percent, but they ended up shooting only 25 percent. It was a deplorable offensive display overall for a team that usually has success in NCAA tournaments.
Similar to Georgetown, I never thought highly of Kansas State. They tend to rely on one star player too often and that was the case with Rodney McGruder. Despite making a furious comeback, they lost to a LaSalle team that had to play a play-in game last Wednesday. It didn’t help that they shot only 53 percent from the free throw line either.
Out of all the non-power conference schools, New Mexico was getting the most buzz going into the tournament. They were being classified as tough, physical, and ready to make a major run. Instead Harvard made them look slow and was successful in getting open shots at will. It was a massive upset considering New Mexico’s height advantage and Harvard’s lack of athleticism.
Keep Charles Barkley On NBA Shows
I’m not sure how people value analysts, but I’m sure many of you manage to tune in to some pre-game, halftime, or post-game shows. If you listen to them having conversations, you have to realize how inept Charles Barkley is.
It’s pretty obvious that Barkley doesn’t watch much college basketball. He called the Big Ten the most overrated conference yet four teams remain from that conference. Also you had Illinois take Miami to the limit to prove even more how deep the Big East can be in quality of top teams.
When you hear the analysts’ debate, Barkley tends to say generic things and doesn’t go into much detail. He isn’t like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, or even Dick Vitale. The player’s names are rarely mentioned, along with Greg Anthony constantly outdoing him with his critiques. Please get rid of Barkley and keep him doing NBA pre-game shows, where he actually knows player’s names and proven facts.
The Best Of The 2013 NCAA Tournament
Role players like Mitch McGary are making Michigan into a legitimate Final Four contender.
Upsets Are Running Wild
So did anyone know who Florida Gulf Coast was before Friday? How about La Salle? It’s unbelievable how both teams managed to make it to the Sweet 16. Once again it’s these upsets that make the tournament so exciting to watch.
How can anyone truly classify Florida Gulf Coast’s style of play? It’s rare to say this, but they are playing like they are really having fun. There were teams yesterday like Indiana and Miami that really had to battle for every point. Florida Gulf Coast is making it look so easy.
They force turnovers and find open looks to nail three pointers. Bernard Thompson has been the go to guy, but the supporting cast has been more than enough. From Sherwood Brown’s three pointers to Chase Fieler’s highlight reel dunk, they are making history and building up their college for future recruits. It still shocks me that someone with a comb over haircut has hops like that.
LaSalle has been under the radar, but they definitely deserve some recognition. They have been hitting a high amount of three pointers, including nine against Ole Miss. With an easier matchup with Wichita State, they could make it to the Elite Eight and possibly be the 2011 VCU and make the final four, despite playing a play-in game.
Star Players Hitting High Pressured Shots
The top teams in the tournament have been tested already and put in close game situations. We’ve seen star players step up and hit huge shots to win close games from Aaron Craft to Victor Oladipo.
Craft made major headlines for his game winner against Iowa State. What made it so special was that it was his only three pointer attempted all game. He had a great game overall scoring 18 points, but he mostly did his damage in the paint. It caught everyone off guard that he actually attempted a three pointer in a high-pressured situation.
If I had to pick the player of the year, it would be Oladipo. He has been the main star for the most consistent team all season besides Gonzaga. Despite the team having severe scoring issues against Temple, Oladipo held strong and scored 17 points. His three point shot to give Indiana a four-point victory pretty much sealed the victory for Indiana.
It may not be a game winner, but Vander Blue had one of the best performances of the tournament so far to lead Marquette to narrowly defeating Butler. Blue scored 29 points on 9-15 shooting, along with hitting all eight of his free throws. Marquette was struggling to score through lengthy phases of the game, but Blue really put the team on his back and hit many crucial shots.
Michigan Isn’t Messing Around
I’m pretty sure that many people were somewhat surprised Michigan was only a fourth seed. This was easily one of the most talented teams in the country, but they were lacking consistency. When you end the season going 6-6, it does hurt your resume.
Based on their performance so far, it’s pretty obvious when Michigan is focused that they are a top five team in the country. They are very dynamic getting different contributions from other players. Trey Burke is considered to be the main star, but he hasn’t hit his stride yet.
The success so far is simply moving the basketball and finding easy shots. Michigan has shot 50 percent or more so far in both games. With role players like Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, they are showing how many different weapons that they have.
The up and coming matchup with Kansas is a very favorable matchup for them. With their guards in Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr, they could really frustrate Kansas and their lack of a true point guard. Also, they have a player in McGary who is willing to bang inside and can defend someone as good as Jeff Whitney.
Louisville Has Made It Easy
Out of all the number one seeds, Louisville has been the only one to blowout their opponents. They have lived up to their hype so far being the pre-tournament favorite to win it all. The frantic press that they use has frustrated teams, along with their fast paced offense.
Russ Smith has been the star so far and has really come on in the past few months. It seemed like he was struggling with his shot earlier in the year, but now has really separated himself from the pack and became Louisville’s go-to scorer. With his explosiveness and ability to knock down a jump shot from any angle, he can score 20 points or more against anybody
The one issue with Louisville this season has been consistency. Sure they haven’t lost since the five overtime classic against Notre Dame, but they always seem to be shaky. With the Big East not being as strong as it usually is, I expected them to take more command of the conference.
It comes down to if players like Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng play efficiently. Those two players will have a massive role if they can win a national title. Both of them are very talented, but tend to either shoot poorly or be a non-factor offensively. Louisville may be a deep team, but they’ll need contributions from everyone like they have had so far in the tournament.
Pac 12 Deserves More Recognition
I’ll admit that I’m one of many that didn’t take the Pac 12 seriously and didn’t pay too much attention to it this year. The conference has taken a hit over the past few years with the lack of quality teams. They used to be a powerhouse conference with teams like Washington and UCLA constantly being ranked every year.
It’s not like that anymore and I’ve put them to the side, since nobody from that conference really stood out. I wasn’t really buying into the hype that Oregon is going to be a major force as a twelveth seed. Arizona was considered to be a prime opponent for Belmont to upset. California beating UNLV was the only thing I expected.
Instead Oregon has soundly defeated both Oklahoma State and Saint Louis to catch many people off guard. Oregon has shot well from three-point range and has out-rebounded both of their opponents by double digits. Arsaian Kazemi has averaged over fifteen rebounds in the past two games. With a mixture of dominating the paint and hitting three pointers, this team can make a magical run to the final four.
Arizona may have benefited from New Mexico’s early elimination, but they still deserve kudos for their performance. Not many teams can say right now that they beat both of their opponents by double digits so far. Arizona has shot over 55 percent in both of their games so far, which is pretty scary led by Mark Lyons.
Also, let’s not forget about California. They have been eliminated by Syracuse, but they held them to zero field goals in a 12-minute span. It was pretty scary to see a talented team like Syracuse go through such a drought. Cal was very physical and played their part in why people will start taking the Pac 12 more seriously.
Final Four Picks
The tournament has been as good as advertised so far. In terms of final four picks, I’ll give mine right now. Before the tournament, I had Duke, Gonzaga, Florida, and Indiana making it. I’m still sticking with those three teams, but I’ll go with Ohio State since Gonzaga is out.
I’m not that high on Ohio State because they lack size and tend to allow too many easy baskets, but their region is easy. Wichita State is the only team that I could see really giving them massive problems. Arizona won’t get enough stops to pull off the upset.
Duke hasn’t been brought up yet but I’m really high on them. They still managed to beat Creighton by 16, despite bad performances from Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. With those two players playing better, they will be too much for this region. Louisville versus Duke should be the best Elite eight game if it were too happen.
Indiana was shaky yesterday but I’m sure Tom Crean will have his team focused. Nobody from the region has looked particularly great. It’ll come down to Miami and Indiana battling it out with Oladipo being the difference maker. Hopefully, Cody Zeller starts making better decisions. He took too many contested layups against Temple.
Florida and Michigan are so close when it comes to this pick. I do two brackets and I had to split on the possible Elite Eight game between them. Florida gets the slight edge because of their ability to knock down threes at will and have a wide variety of scorers. Michigan goes through stages, where they struggle to shoot. That game could go either way, but Florida seems to be more primed to be in the final four.
I’ll be back next week to recap the action again. Hopefully, people’s brackets aren’t too damaged and can go into this weekend with high hopes. For now, my bracket is looking pretty good despite Gonzaga’s shocking loss.