The NCAA Tournament started last week with sixty-four teams. We, after some strange twists and turns, are down to the Sweet Sixteen. So, here are Sixteen (not always) Sweet thoughts about what we saw over the last few days..
16. Don’t call them Cinderella: A lot of people thought Arizona didn’t even deserve to be in the tournament. But, here they are, into the Sweet Sixteen. You wouldn’t expect them to give Louisville a tough time. But, don’t be so shocked that they are here, either. They have one of the nation’s better players in Chase Budinger, and were hoping for big things this season before Lute Olson retired due to health concerns. They might be a double digit seed, but the talent on this Wildcats club is much better than that.
15. The slipper didn’t fit Cleveland State: So, Cleveland State wrecked my bracket (more on that later) by beating Wake Forest on Friday night. They gave Arizona a bit of a run as well before crashing down to Earth. It was a nice little run for a team that wasn’t supposed to be here, and wouldn’t have been had they not beaten Butler to win the Horizon League Tournament. They lasted one game longer than anyone thought they would, and don’t be shocked if coach Gary Waters winds up leaving the Vikings for a bigger job.
14. This Griffin kid at Oklahoma is pretty good: Blake Griffin is a man among boys. There’s no other way to say it. He’s showing why he’s a consensus Player of the Year. How about that effort on Saturday against a Michigan club that was determined to make their first appearance in the NCAA’s since 1998 more than just a one and done? Not only did Griffin score over thirty points and grab double digits in rebounds, but he kept getting up after Michigan tried to bounce him around. Like a Timex watch, he took a licking and kept on ticking.
13. A number one that needs to be worried: Pittsburgh might have made it into the round of sixteen, but they haven’t necessarily looked like a former top ranked team doing it. East Tennessee State gave them a good run on Friday, and Oklahoma State put a scare into them yesterday. Somehow, Jamie Dixon has to press the reset button and get his club back to where they were a few weeks ago, when they beat UCONN for the second time this year. If he doesn’t, they are ripe for the picking.
12. Xavier is this decade’s Gonzaga: You certainly can’t consider Gonzaga a surprise anymore. And maybe Xavier should get the same kind of respect now. They play in the Atlantic 10, which will not be confused with a power conference anytime soon. However, for the second straight year Xavier is in the Sweet Sixteen. Sean Miller, like Thad Matta before him, is no longer a secret. Last year he turned Marquette down when they wanted him to replace Tom Crean. Will he stick around in Cincinnati if Arizona comes calling? Stay tuned…
11. I miss Billy Packer: I never thought I’d say it because he sounds like he’s a whiny pain in the butt half the time. But, I miss Billy Packer. I miss his honest analysis. He doesn’t have any shtick. He doesn’t scream and shout. He doesn’t match his tie to his hiliter. He just breaks down the action he sees, and sometimes he offends people with his honesty. It’s a shame he’s not working the tournament this year. Clark Kellogg doesn’t do a bad job, but he’s no Packer.
10. Duke isn’t Duke: Yes, the Blue Devils are in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in a few years. No, I don’t expect then to go any further. Texas gave them everything they could handle, and Villanova will beat them this week. Sure, Duke can shoot. But, their relative lack of toughness is going to be exposed when Jay Wright’s Wildcats get a hold of them in Boston later this week.
9. You shouldn’t have written off Kansas: There weren’t many who thought Kansas would be in the round of sixteen after winning the whole ball of wax last year. Not after all those players went pro. The run to this point is just further proof of what a great coach Bill Self is. He doesn’t rebuild. He just reloads.
8. That Tim Floyd guy can coach too: USC wasn’t supposed to be here, not after losing O.J. Mayo to the NBA. Someone forgot to tell that to Tim Floyd, who went out and got one of the best high school players in Demar Derozan to play for the Trojans. What was supposed to be a year in which USC took a step back has been anything but. Floyd might not have been a big success in the NBA, but he’s doing just fine in the college game thank you very much.
7. Someone tell Digger Phelps to get over himself: Digger Phelps used to be a really good analyst. Now he’s just another analyst who has taken his press clipping too easily. Forget about the whole matching the hiliter to his tie thing. That’s ridiculous enough in and of itself. But, the final straw for me was Phelps talking over his fellow ESPN analysts. It’s one thing to talk over Hubert Davis and not give him any air time. It’s another to try it on Dick Vitale. Vitale is loved by most people because of his shtick and the way he simplifies the game. Phelps wants to show you how smart he is. It comes off as being annoying.
6. Dominic James deserves a lot of credit: Dominic James’ season was supposed to be over after breaking a bone in his foot against UCONN on February 25th. Someone, though, forgot to tell that to James. He worked to come back and did yesterday against Missouri. Many other players in his position – looking at a possible NBA career – would have just packed it in and waited to play another day. James showed everyone he was more about the name on the front of his jersey, not the name on the back. The college game could use more players like him. It’s a shame Marquette couldn’t extend James’ career by one more game.
5. Memphis got mad: Cal-State Northridge might have awoke a sleeping giant in John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. Because after Thursday’s close call they took a good Maryland team and made them look silly. I don’t think they’ll beat a more experienced UCONN team if and when they meet in the finals of the West Region. But, I do expect them to give UCONN a good push because Calipari will have them motivated and ready to go. Not only is Calipari a good coach, but he’s a master motivator.
4. Dick Enberg’s still got it: He might be 70-something, but I can’t get enough of listening to Dick Enberg do a game. He might make more mistakes than he used to, but he’s got one of the smoothest deliveries in the business of broadcasting. He and Jay Bilas were really good together (I have always been a big fan of Bilas, who gets overshadowed by Vitale and Phelps at ESPN). More play by play guys should learn from his example (more on that in a minute). Let the game come to you as opposed to trying to make every play worthy of being on your demo.
3. The Big East deserved all those bids; the ACC didn’t: Let’s see. UCONN, Louisville, Pitt, Villanova, and Syracuse are still alive. The ACC got the same amount of bids (seven) and only North Carolina and Duke are still dancing. Anyone want to argue about who the better conference is now????
2. I am not a fan of Gus Johnson: Remember what I wrote about Dick Enberg letting the game come to him? Well, Johnson does the exact opposite. I know he’s popular, but I just don’t get it. The excitement he displays seems phony to me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if his partner – the even-headed Len Elmore – was getting sick of the whole thing. Johnson needs to learn that not every three pointer or slam dunk deserves the treatment he gives it.
1. My bracket is screwed: I pretty much ripped my sheet up on Friday night. I had Wake Forest in the Final Four. I’m still sick over that. Thanks for nothing, Demon Deacons!