by Kent Sterling
That clicking sound is the NCAA Men’s Tournament Selection Committee texting each other to congratulate themselves for setting up this tournament.
My God, what a day of basketball. Sixteen games, and four end in overtime while Dayton, Harvard, and Texas won games that went down to the wire.
Two 12-seeds won while only one lost, bringing the 12-seeds’ record since 2001 to 25-30. And there should have been a third. NC State led Saint Louis by 14 with eight minutes left, and eight points with 1:41 left. The Billikens roared back forcing OT, and finally won by three. The Wolfpack are lamenting 17 missed free throws, but Saint Louis hit only 12-26 themselves. That means you can choose to call Harvard and North Dakota State upset winners, but they really aren’t. Twelves and fives are more similar than their numbers would dictate.
The goal for major conference teams shouldn’t be to qualify for the tournament – they need to be seeded on the four line or better, or face quick expulsion.
So what games today will provide some magic?
I really like Tim Miles’ Nebraska team over Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears. The Cornhuskers are 11 seeds, but minus a second half hiccup in the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State, they have played very well over the last six weeks. Terran Petteway is a stud on both ends, and the Big 12 is overrated, so I take Nebraska.
Stephen F. Austin is expected to give Shaka Smart and VCU all they want in today’s lone 12/5 matchup, but I think VCU runs away and hides.
There is no upset context for the 8/9 games, so an emotional investment in either team is difficult to muster. To be honest I just don’t care about Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State, Memphis vs. George Washington, or Kentucky vs. Kansas State. The only enjoyment in those games is to see former Hoosier Maurice Creek play on the big stage after so much work to become physically able to compete. My dream would be for Kansas State and Kentucky to both lose their game. One coach is a slick reprobate and the other is a loon. Neither winning would be wonderful, but a double loss is unlikely.
Selfishly, I am hoping for Michigan, Duke, Kentucky, and Lousisville to qualify for a Sweet Sixteen for the ages in Indianapolis. It reminds me of 1981 when I bought four seats for the Sweet Sixteen in Bloomington. The teams expected were Kentucky, DePaul, Indiana, and Wake Forest. Visions of a windfall danced in my head until everybody but IU lost. St. Joe’s and UAB did not travel as well as Big Blue Nation and the Blue Demons, and I barely broke even. The moral of the story is sell your tickets while the big hitters live. Wait for the weekend to end at your own peril. Sell now!
If there is a huge upset that might come to pass today, Eastern Kentucky might be able to play with Kansas, who is minus Joel Embiid through the weekend. I’m not picking EKU because when you google “Eastern Kentucky stats”, the first entry is a link to the university’s department of mathematics and statistics. The Colonels rank 350th in rebounds, according to ESPN, which is a surprise because I thought there were 349 D-1 schools. Is it possible EKU is so bad, they rank less than worst?
What they can do is shoot from deep. Watch Glenn Cosey and his teammates fire away. They average 24 three point attempts and nine makes per game. If they have a wacky shooting day, they can hang around. If they go cold, Kansas might win by 80.
Yesterday might have been the best opening day in the history of the tournament, so an encore is not likely, but who knows?
As for whether anyone is going to win Warren Buffett’s $1-million prize for a perfect bracket, it looks as unlikely as a one-in-nine quintillion shot should be. On the espn.com bracket challenge only .16% of the brackets are perfect after day one. If five-million signed sign, and the rate of attrition today quals yesterday’s, there will only be 14 perfect brackets after today’s games.