There wasn't much in doubt last night in Raleigh as the two higher seeds won, but that doesn't mean it wasn't entertaining. On the contrare, watching North Carolina and Mount St Mary's run a track meet in the first game was very enjoyable. And of course, basically being in their backyard, the arena was filled with Carolina Blue. Everyone knew, including the Mountaineers, that North Carolina was going to win. The Tar Heels on offense are like a good NBA team, and you got the feeling that Hansborough, Lawson and company would have easily beaten the Knicks last nignt, let alone a 17-15 team that won the NEC championship. The game was basically over in the first half as the Tar Heels went up 60-41 at the half. However, you got a great sense from the Mountaineers that they weren't intimidated and were out there to play their game, no matter what. They ran up and down the court with the Heels, playing a run and gun style that played to the Tar Heels superior athleticism. They were able to score 41 first half points on the Heels (who are not a very good defensive team). And the Heels crowd was into it, as I found out that the local Bojangles restaurants offer two for one sausage biscuits if the Heels score 100 in a game, which happened with about 7 minutes left. But at the end of the game, the Mountaineers pulled their starting lineup and their head coach was high fiving all his players for their effort.
In between games, many of the fans like us, gathered around the TVs to watch the end of the St Joe's/Oklahoma game, and the comeback of Mississippi State as the Ducks of Oregon shot brick after brick from the field late in the second half, as if they were building a house. The amazing thing, and typical of CBS, was that they had an amazing upset with #13 Siena clocking #4 Vanderbilt, they never went to the end of the game, despite several minutes left in the Oregon-Miss State game. So, I had to give a couple of people updates on my cell phone of the Saints-Commodores game.
Then it was onto the end of the first day, as Indiana took on Arkansas. First it was clear to the three of us (Mal, Tieff and me) that outside of DJ White and Armon Bassett (who combined for 43 points), the Hoosiers were just not putting that much of an effort on the court. If the Hoosiers gave the effort that the Mountaineers did in the first game, it might have been a different story. But "star guard" freshman Eric Gordon had an absolutely miserable game. Gordon shot 3 of 15 from the field, 2 of 6 from the line and his effort was completely lacking. He better not even think of applying for the NBA draft. He is simply not ready. Its a shame that White and Bassett had to deal with that kind of game from the supposed best player on the team.
Now it takes a lot to make me look like a genius (and ask my wife, Chelle would say "A Lot!"), but I went 8 for 8 in the evening sessions last night, including my picks of Oklahoma State, Miss State and my upset specials of Villanova and Siena, where I made my friend Mal lots of money, and re-established my street cred on college basketball.
Now for my awards for the first two days of the first round of games.
Most Disappointing First Round Performance - Kent State. Its not even close. I watched the Golden Flashes several times this year, including four games at the end of the season and I thought Jim Christian's group had poise, athleticism, basketball smarts and the physical play to give teams fits in the tournament. Then they went out, played absolutely scared ball, where they had by far more turnovers, 17, to points 10. They shot miserably and just looked unprepared. Just amazing.
Most Inspirational Performance - San Diego's Brandon Johnson. Despite being clearly hurt, Johnson played through the pain, kept his Toreros going and gave them the motivation to pull off the upset of UConn in the first round.
Most Amazing First Round Regional First Day Bracket EVER - The Tampa regional. Four games, four much higher seeds gone. Two overtime games that came down to a buzzer beater. Another game, where the 12 seed, Nova, came back from an 18 point deficit. Another game where the #13 seed, Siena played like the #4 seed and completely, demolished the real #4 seed, Vanderbilt.
You Saw This Coming, But It Was Still an Amazing Train Wreck - Siena over Vanderbilt. I predicted this on Sunday as soon as I saw the bracket and it was my best bet of the tourney (and it made Mal lots of money). However, still, to see Siena completely outplay Vandy is really amazing.
Best Performance by a Player - Tie - Jack McClinton - Miami and Stephen Curry - Davidson. Talk about two great performances. First, McClinton simply put the Canes on his back and scored 32 points in the second half to lead Miami over St Mary''s. Second half score McClinton 32, St Mary' 32. Problem is that the rest of Miami's team scored an additional 18 points. As for Curry, he was just amazing to watch live. Every time he shot the basketball, it was like "Bang, its going in". And Bang, its going in. There was one play at the end of the game where Gonzaga was trying to desperately trap Curry with two players. Curry puts on this sick crossover dribble which causes the two Zags to run into each other. A collective "oh" came from the arena. It was that impressive.
Best Performance by a Team - There were many teams that had terrific performances such as Siena, Western Kentucky, Notre Dame, among others, but Butler's thorough beating of South Alabama despite Mike Green only having 5 points on 5 field goal attempts stands out.
Best Game - Tie - Belmont -Duke/Western Kentucky-Drake - I watched the Belmont-Duke game and it was a great game throughout, despite the disappointing end (disappointing for non Duke fans). As for the Hilltoppers and the Bulldogs, you kept looking at the score wondering "When will Drake make a run?" Well they did, setting up an exciting overtime end of a game that many fans will remember for a long time.
Most Heartbreaking End - Had to be the Drake -Western Kentucky game. The Bulldogs were down 16 points in the second half against the Hilltoppers, who played a great game and shot the lights out. However, Drake, as they have all year, made an amazing comeback and briefly went ahead at the end of regulation, only to have Western Kentucky tie the game. Then in the overtime, as the Bulldogs went ahead at the end of the game and looked to have it won, Ty Rogers nailed a 26 foot three pointer with three Bulldogs in his face. It was a sad end to such a great season for Drake.
Most Disappointing Performance By a Supposed Great Player - Eric Gordon. Wasn't even close. Whoever gets that coaching position at Indiana needs to have a long talk with that kid, because he played like that for me, he'd be gone. Felt bad the Hoosier fans who had to witness that.
Player That Looks Most Like a Movie Character - Steven Hill, Arkansas. I've seen Hill play before and never realized until Hill came off the bench last night, when a fan yelled "Its Teen Wolf", that it became so apparent. With the head band, the long scruffy hair and equally scruffy beard, Steven Hill IS Teen Wolf. And get this, there was full moon last night, so Hill was in his element! Give Hill credit though. He played 18 solid minutes with great hustling effort, unlike the much more talented, ballyhooed Eric Gordon. No, I am not letting up on Eric Gordon.
Best Conference - Big East. The Big East got a lot of flack for having eight teams in the tourney. Well, they went 7-1, including the last team in the tourney, Nova, taking out one of the hot picks of the tourney, Clemson. Had it not been for an AJ Price injury, UConn might have made it a perfect 8-0.
Worst Performance by a Conference - A-10. Xavier's late second half comeback spared the A-10 the indignity of having all three teams exit out of the first round of the tournament. Temple and St Joe's non conference schedule showed that they were not ready for prime time and their play, sans St Joe's late second half spurt, clearly showed it. But a lot of prognosticators made St Joe's and Temple the sexy picks due to the A-10's seemingly deep number of competitive teams. However, I was not surprised by this as I had both teams gone after the first round due to the aformentioned non-conference play. Temple hadn't beat anyone non-conference, what made people think they would beat an experienced Michigan State team. And don't get me started on St Joe's.
Second Round Game I Wish I Could See Live - Butler vs. Tennessee. That's going to be lots of fun
Second Round Game I Am So Glad I Get to See Live - Davidson vs. Georgetown. People don't realize how well Gonzaga played against the Wildcats, only to see the Stephen Curry show explode onto the national scene (by the way, met his dad, former NBA great Dell Curry during the second game, great honor). The Wildcats need to do a better job rebounding though against a much bigger Hoyas team, because they were dominated on the boards by the Zags. If Coverdale and friends can hold their own there, it will be close.
That's it for now. And oh yeah, at noon today on ESPN, its the MAC vs. the A-10, as Akron takes on UMass. Lets see if Tom Kemp's boys can shoot their free throws and send another A-10 team home for Easter.