Monday, March 31, 2003

Just so you know, I did watch the games this weekend. Like many of you, the collapse of Kentucky on Saturday was the most shocking development of the tournament. How could a team that seemed so dominant for the past three months look so ordinary when it counted most. The Kansas-Arizona game was the best so far, a back-and-forth struggle which could well define this year's champions. Unlike most seasons, there isn't one team in the Final Four that leaves you scratching your head, like Virginia in 1984, Providence in 1987, Cincinnati in 1992, or Wisconsin in 2000. Each school can make a legitimate claim as the hottest team playing right now, and no result would be a surprise.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

First time since 1979 that there is no ACC school in the Elite 8.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Well, Arizona was sure impressive, and Kentucky sure wasn't. Duke and Kansas was everything we anticipated, and who was that Wade player for Marquette who got hot last night?

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Many of you, like myself, are following the Tournament in conjunction with a bar or office pool. The dirty little secret of college basketball is that its popularity stems from the ease in which people can bet on the sport, and the tawdry little scandals that have attached themselves to the sport are notorious. However, I bet there are very few of you out there (particularly the dozen or so who have reached this site through a Google search for "USC Song Girls") who are taking part in this type of pool. Like those who attempt to organize "Dead Pools", this sort of thing is really a cry for help.

Monday, March 24, 2003

As with Saturday, the late games Sunday were tedious, dull blow-outs. As expected, Kentucky routed Utah, 74-54, and eliminated the Utes from the post-season for the fifth time in eleven years. Actress Ashley Judd passed up the Oscars to watch her team play, one of the few people in the country to do so. The 'Cats will play Wisconsin this Thursday. In the other game, Michigan St. continued their hot play of late, humiliating Florida before an unfriendly crowd in Tampa, 68-46. Next up for the Spartans: Syracuse.

Texas 77, Purdue 67: Tight game most of the way, before the No.1 seed pulled away at the end. The Longhorns trailed by one at half after the refs allowed a three-point shot for the Boilermakers after the clock expired, and led by only two points with a little over two minutes to play before shutting Purdue down the rest of the way. Texas wins the right to play Connecticut in the round of 16 on Friday.

Maryland 77, Xavier 64: The nightmare tournament of the Atlantic-10 finally ended, with the Terps convincing win over the Musketeers. In spite of having three schools with high seeds, the conference went 1-3, with St. Joes and Dayton getting upset in the first round. Maryland led by as much as twenty in the first half before Xavier pulled as close as three points in the second.

Auburn 68, Wake Forest 62: Upset of the day yesterday, as controversial tournament selection Auburn shocked the ACC regular season champ. The Demon Deacons went cold in the second half, shooting only 27% from the field, while the War Eagles/Tigers received clutch play at the end from Marquis Daniels, who scored seven points in the final 4 minutes to seal the victory. Auburn will play Syracuse on Friday.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Syracuse 68, Oklahoma St. 56: Perhaps the school least likely to overcome a huge deficit in the second round did so Sunday, against the one coach perhaps most noted for his adeptness at defense and fundamentals. Trailing 27-10 with only six minutes to play until half-time, the Orangemen came back and dominated the second half, stifling the Cowboys behind the heady play of freshmen Bill Edelin, Carmelo Anthony, and Gerry McNamara.

Butler 79, Louisville 71: The Cardinals' woes in the NCAA Tournament continued after a shocking loss to 12-seed Butler, after blowing out to a 24-9 lead. Darnell Archey shot 8 for 9 from three-point territory, leading the way for the school that plays in the gym where the championship game in the movie Hoosiers was shot. Ironically, as I noted on Friday, Butler is also the school representing the largest city still left in the tournament.

Pittsburgh 74, Indiana 52: This time there can be no question of whether the Panthers deserve to be in the Sweet Sixteen. Last year, they received the assistance of playing two games in their home city, and ended up losing to a weaker Kent State team in the third round. This year, Pitt easily won their two games at the Fleet Center, pulling away this morning from the Hoosiers in the second half to post an easy win. They will play Marquette on Thursday.

The other three second round games Saturday were absolutely wretched. The Big-12 outclassed the Pac-10, as Oklahoma raced to a 15-4 lead and never led by fewer than 7 points the rest of the way, beating CAL, 74-65, in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. With Hollis Price playing at half-strength due to a groin tear, the Sooners were led by freshmen guards Kevin Bookout and De'Angelo Alexander, who scored 22 and 15 points respectively. Brian Wethers was the only Bear to show up, scoring a career-high 27 points in his last collegiate game, while the other senior star, Joe Shipp, was held to 20 points. Ben Braun, who is a fine teacher of the game, and probably gets more from less than any other coach in the Pac-10 save Henry Bibby, has now coached an uninspired and apathetic squad out of the second round for the second consecutive tournament.

The two late games were even more one-sided. Kansas scored at will and routed Arizona State, 108-76, making 21 of 23 shots during one extended second-half run. The Jayhawks will play Duke, an easy 86-60 winner over Central Michigan, in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday. I hope the late games tonight will be more interesting, or CBS is going to have a ratings fiasco against the Oscars.

Arizona 96, Gonzaga 95[2OT]: The only way to beat the 'Zags is to drive a stake through their hearts, or at least to have the refs forget the rule about "change of possession". Helped by a questionable call, and showing some heretofore unseen determination and heart, the Wildcats won the most exciting game of the tournament. Gonzaga kept the game close through regulation, finally pulling into a tie in the final seconds on a put-back shot by Tony Skinner, who along with Blake Stepp led the Bulldogs in scoring with 25 points. In the second overtime, Arizona was aided by a questionable call after Jason Gardner rebounded a Gonzaga airball, took two dribbles and lost it out of bounds. Rather than restart the shot clock, the officials ruled that there had been no change of possession, and the Bulldogs missed badly on a forced shot. Neither team scored in the final two minutes of the second overtime. The Wildcats move on to face Notre Dame on Thursday.

Wisconsin 61, Tulsa 60: The best comeback so far. The Badgers, trailing by 13 with four minutes to go, and having not played a single minute of inspired basketball the entire game, pressed the Golden Hurricane into four turnovers, cut the lead to two, then saw Freddie Jones, playing on a bum ankle, hit a three-pointer with one second left to give Wisconsin an improbable win.

Marquette 101, Missouri 92 [OT]: Exhibiting perfection from the field and the charity stripe in overtime, the Warriors Golden Eagles won the first of two thrillers involving schools from Wisconsin in the second round. Once again, Travis Diener was the star, picking up the slack for a slumping Dwyane Wade with 26 points, while Steve Novak hit three treys in the overtime to subdue the Tigers. Rickey Paulding was a one-man wrecking crew for Missouri, keying a late comeback that tied the game in the final minute and a half and scoring 36 points.

Connecticut 85, Stanford 74: The beginning of what would be a long day for Pac-10 schools, with only one narrow win and three one-sided blow-outs. The Cardinal led by four at half-time, and managed to keep the game close for most of the second half, but the Huskies speed and shot-blocking were ultimately too much. Stanford receiving a four-seed was one of the more ridiculous picks by the tournament selection committee, based almost entirely on their play in the Pre-Season NIT and a fluke victory at Arizona in early February. In my opinion, UConn is the class of the South Region.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Notre Dame 68, Illinois 60: Underachieving in the regular season, when the Fighting Irish dropped six of their last ten games to back into the tournament, Notre Dame showed their mettle this afternoon, racing out to a thirteen-point halftime lead behind some uncanny shots from behind the arc and coasted to an 8-point victory over perhaps the best team in the Big-10.

At the end of the game today, as well as the Indiana-Alabama game last night, the losing team did something in the final minute that just drives me up the wall: they began throwing up "panic threes". Down by three points last night, the Tide rebounded a Hoosier miss and drove down the court with about 38 seconds to play. There was an open lane to the basket, and if Bama had gone for the lay-up they would have been down by at least one (or had a chance to tie, if Indiana had fouled), and could have imposed a full-court press and/or fouled, sending Indiana to the line. In either case, they would have gotten the ball back, and could have played for the final shot. Instead, the Alabama ballhandler called time-out in the front court with 25 seconds to play. They inbounded, dribbled the clock down to eight seconds, by which time they had no option but to go for the three, and their leading scorer, Maurice Williams put up a well-defensed trey that bricked. Game over.

This afternoon, the Illini were down six with less than a minute to go when they got the ball off a missed shot. Again, going inside would have given them an easy basket, with at least four to five possessions left if they started fouling. But once again, they went for the three, and missed badly. The Irish rebounded, and Illinois did not score again.

Now, I happen to believe that Bill Self is a fine coach, and I have no reason to believe Mike Gottfried isn't one too. As a fan, though, I have seen more teams come from behind with a combination of traps, defense, and missed free throws by the opponent than I have seen games won by teams erasing big deficits in the final minute by shooting three-pointers. The percentages, all things being equal, don't make sense to begin with, and you have to figure at the end of games, when your top players are going to be tired and arm-weary, and the other team is setting up its defense solely with the intent of shutting down the trey, your chances of getting on a three-point roll will diminish. The "panic three" is a brain-dead strategy, so it's not surprising these schools lost.

WHAT AN EVENING !! After the drudgery of the first set of games last night, the finales proved to be gems. Indiana overcame a big half-time deficit to stun Alabama; Butler spurted out to a big lead over dark horse Final Four contender Mississippi State, then saw the lead see-saw back and forth until finally winning the game on a shot with six seconds to play; Maryland, seconds away from having its title reign end prematurely due to the perfect three-point shooting of John Goldsberry, beat NC-Wilmington on a buzzer-beating shot by Drew Nicholas. The only rout took place in Tampa, where Florida enjoyed the home crowd edge in blowing out Sam Houston St, ending a three-game losing streak.

Friday, March 21, 2003

For the first time since 1987, the NCAA Tournament will compete directly against the Oscars this Sunday. Due to its transfer of broadcasting to ESPN of the early first-round games, CBS has rescheduled the second round to give it an additional game to televise on Sunday, starting at 4:00 p.m. PST. The two games to be shown will be the Kentucky-Utah rout and what may be a competitive battle between Florida and Michigan State. The Academy Awards start at 5:30 p.m., so hoops fans will have a choice between seeing Tom Izzo pace the sidelines or hearing Queen Latifah's tearful acceptance speech.

Sandwiched between some exciting games in the early afternoon and some thrillers at the end of the night came two and a half hours of buzzkill. Rick Pitino successfully returned to the NCAA's, coaching Louisville to a blow-out over Austin Peay. Pitt was even more dominant in ousting the only school from New York City in the tournament, Wagner; with LA, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit unrepresented in this year's dance, and Philadelphia, Houston, and San Diego having had their schools ousted, the largest city with a team left is at number 12, Indianapolis. Michigan State continued its hot run, easily sidestepping Colorado. The only game that was remotely competitive featured the remaining Atlantic 10 squad, Xavier, edging a scrappy Troy St. team.

Wake Forest 76, E. Tennessee St. 73: The ACC regular season champions blew an eight-point lead in the final minute, then recovered at the free throw line to hold off the Buccaneers. The Demon Deacons were frustrated by a tenacious full-court press and the play of Tim Smith, who almost single-handedly tied the game before some clutch free-throw shooting in the final 21 seconds sent Wake Forest through to the second round, where they will play Auburn.

Utah 60, Oregon 58: In one of the worst-played games of the tournament, the "Runnin'" Utes overcame frigid shooting to beat the Ducks. Utah ultimately won the game at the free throw line and from beyond the three-point arc; Nick Jacobsen hit two of three free throws with 14 seconds left to win the game after Oregon player Ian Crosswhite missed two of four in the final two minutes, in a contest where the winning team shot 37.5% on its three-point attempts, but only 23.7% inside the arc. Luke Ridenour, playing what was probably his final college game, missed 11 of his 14 shots from the field, and committed the unnecessary foul on Jacobsen to set up the loss. Utah now has to play Kentucky, a team they lost to four times in the 1990's, in the second round Ugh !!

Purdue 80, LSU 56: The Boilermakers broke open a 32-32 game at halftime with a 28-8 run to start the second half and rolled to an unexpectedly easy win over the Tigers. Purdue now will play the number one seed, Texas, in the second round, hoping that Melvin Buckley will be able to extend his hot three-point shooting for a second straight game.

Oklahoma State 77, Penn 63: The Quakers maintained one of the least impressive records in recent tournament history, fading badly to lose to the Cowboys. Since reaching the Final Four in 1979, Penn has won only two of twelve tournament games. Adieu, Koko Archibong.

Syracuse 76, Manhattan 65: Dark horse tournament pick Syracuse held off a stubborn Jaspers' effort to advance to the second round. Jim Boeheim is now 19-3 in first round games, and will play the winner of the Oklahoma State-Penn game on Sunday.

Texas 82, UNC Asheville 61: Once again, there will be no 16-seed in the second round as the Longhorns took control early and pounded the Big South champion. For those of you who wondered, UNC Asheville is the answer to the trivia question I asked earlier this week, as to who was the last 16-seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament, as a result of their victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday.

Auburn 65, St. Joe's 63[OT]: Marquis Daniels came through in the final minute of overtime, helping the Tigers/War Eagles overcome a late four-point deficit. Auburn was a controversial pick for the tourney, receiving a bid in large part because of a superior conference and RPI rating over Alabama, which had a stronger subjective claim due to its number of quality non-conference wins.

Kentucky 95, IUPUI 64: As expected, the Wildcats rolled to an easy victory over an out-matched opponent, a refrain we will hear often in the next three weeks. Kentucky shot an amazing 61% from the field.

As you might have guessed, I'm not going to specifically blog the evening games of the tournament. I'm a fan first, and intend to spend the nights in a cozy tavern, watching as much of the happenings as possible in the company of my dear, loyal friend, Sierra Nevada. Last night it was the Sherman Oaks Lounge, which is still suffering through growing pains as a sportsbar (I had to tell the manager that there were four games going on at once, and the game being broadcast locally would not be available through the DirecTV package). To recap last night's games, Duke and Kansas had unexpectedly difficult first round games, with the Blue Devils only pulling away in the last minute after Colorado State blew an opportunity to tie the game at the free throw line, and Utah State forcing the Jayhawks to defense two last trey attempts for the tie. Tulsa pulled off the least unexpected 13-4 upset in the history of the tournament, sending Dayton home with a powerful effort in the first half. Central Michigan maintained the legend of the MAC, moving out to a 26-point second half lead over Creighton, then holding off a furious rally to prevail. Arizona State had a surprisingly easy time with Memphis, and may be a tough second round opponent for Kansas, particularly if Tommie Smith presents as much of an offensive presence to compliment his defense. In the two 5-12 match-ups, Big 10 regular season champion Wisconsin and Big East underachiever Notre Dame combined to screw up my brackets. Illinois beat Western Kentucky, ending the season for perhaps the guttiest team in America.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Stanford 77, San Diego 69: The Cardinal blew out to a big first half lead, caved in the second half, but was resilient enough to nail some big treys in the final minutes to prevent a huge upset at the hands of the Torreros. Next up for Stanford: Connecticut.

Oklahoma 71, South Carolina St. 54: The Sooners overcame some initial sluggishness and an injury to Hollis Price that kept him on the bench most of the game to advance to the second round, where they will play CAL.

Missouri 72, Southern Illinois 71: A free throw by Rickey Paulding with four seconds remaining helped the Tigers prevent another tournament run by the Salukis. Missouri will now play Marquette in the second round.

Arizona 80, Vermont 51: Showing barely more enthusiasm than they did in their first round loss last week to UCLA in the Pac-10 Tournament, the Wildcats nevertheless blew out game but exhausted Vermont, making their first appearance at the Dance. The Catamounts spent a whole day at the Denver airport on the way to Salt Lake City after that city was snowed in, and were never in the game. Jason Gardner again had a dreadful game for Arizona, shooting 2 for 8.

Connecticut 58, BYU 53: To the relief of bracketeers everywhere, the Huskies were able to outlast the Mormon school, who threatened to bust the sanctity of the seedings wide-open had they made it past the second round.

Gonzaga 74, Cincinnati 69: Once again, the Bearcats underachieve in tournament time, thanks in part to a double-technical on Coach Bob Huggins. The 'Zags now face the school they wanted in last year's tournament, Arizona.

Terrific finish: CAL 72, NC State 70 [OT]. Richard Midgely, a freshman from Burgess Hill, England, hit a three point bomb with less than 4 seconds to play in overtime, giving the Bears the victory. Midgely had been blocked twice in the final minute of regulation on lay-up attempts.

First final of the tournament: Marquette 72, Holy Cross 68. Everyone's favorite super-upset pick gets washed away, thanks to some timely shooting by Golden Eagle guard Travis Diener.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Friday Schedule:

9:15 am 14 Manhattan vs. 3 Syracuse
9:25 am 10 Auburn vs. 7 St. Joseph's
9:30 am 16 UNC-Asheville vs. 1 Texas
9:30 am 16 IUPUI vs 1 Kentucky

11:35 am 11 Pennsylvania vs. 6 Oklahoma State
11:45 am 15 E. Tennessee State vs. 2 Wake Forest
11:50 am 9 Utah vs. 8 Oregon
11:50 am 9 Purdue vs. 8 Louisiana State

4:10 pm 10 Colorado vs. 7 Michigan State
4:10 pm 15 Wagner vs. 2 Pittsburgh
4:20 pm 13 Austin Peay vs. 4 Louisville
4:25 pm 14 Troy State vs. 3 Xavier

6:30 pm 10 Alabama vs. 7 Indiana
6:30 pm 15 Sam Houston State vs. 2 Florida
6:40 pm 12 Butler vs. 5 Mississippi State
6:45 pm 11 UNC-Wilmington vs. 6 Maryland

All Times Pacific

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Now of course the talk is that the NCAA will "suspend" play in the NCAA Tournament if the U.S. goes to war. Without mocking the solemnity in such a decision, or showing disrespect to either our troops or Iraqi civilians, this strikes me as being a completely phony move. This will be a war in name only; a more appropriate term for what is about to happen in the Persian Gulf is "mass slaughter". At least in the early days of the war, our strategy will probably be to bomb Iraqi military targets, without direct confrontation with the enemy. For the most part, news coverage of this will be limited to anchors parroting military propaganda, with little information or truth emerging. Although the threat of domestic terrorism is present, it is a threat we've lived with for eighteen months, without the preemption of our favorite TV shows.

So why is the NCAA discussing the suspension of March Madness? Money !! At least for the first day of hostilities, CBS will feel obligated to show what every other network will show, with the same pictures, the same interchangeable pundits, the same Administration spin points. Of course, CBS could just as easily break in during the day with bulletins as events necessitate, the same way they would act if an important but unforeseen story were to break during the NCAA Tournament, but to break with the pack and not show wall-to-wall coverage of the war would be an eggregious violation of a broadcasting taboo, which is to be original.

And, of course, the NCAA couldn't simply put its jamboree on a smaller cable network, where those who are not interested in the predictable coverage of events overseas can watch. It might get bad ratings (or worse ratings than normal; one of the dirty little secrets about college hoops is that few people watch, even during the tournament, which is structured more as a sop to the gaming and sports bar industries than to the great mass of sports fans). So the NCAA Tournament, which didn't even delay its title game on the day Reagan was shot, will suspend play for a week, when CBS can resume its normal programming.
UPDATE: The NCAA announced this afternoon that the tournament will begin as scheduled, regardless of events overseas.

QUICKIE TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the last 16 seed to win a game in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament? First to correctly answer this question wins a night of pub-hopping with yours truly.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Those of you who might need some help with their brackets might check out this simple list of "Do's and Don'ts", courtesy of ESPN.

I kinda wish I had known about this program before Sunday, but it's one that's been a long time in coming. A professor in Florida has come up with a mathematical formula that has a 94% success rating in predicting the selections for the NCAA tournament, getting all but one team the previous two years, and missing two (UNLV and TTech in, Bama and NC State out) yesterday.

Thursday Schedule:

9:20 am 14 Holy Cross vs. 3 Marquette
9:25 am 9 North Carolina State vs. 8 California
9:40 am 9 Gonzaga vs. 8 Cincinnati

11:40 am 12 Brigham Young vs. 5 Connecticut
11:50 am 11 Southern Illinois vs. 6 Missouri
11:55 am 16 South Carolina State vs. 1 Oklahoma
12:10 pm 16 Vermont vs. 1 Arizona

2:10 pm 13 San Diego vs. 4 Stanford

4:10 pm 13 Western Kentucky vs. 4 Illinois
4:10 pm 10 Arizona State vs. 7 Memphis
4:20 pm 11 Central Michigan vs. 6 Creighton
4:25 pm 12 Weber State vs. 5 Wisconsin

6:40 pm 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee vs. 5 Notre Dame
6:40 pm 15 Utah State vs. 2 Kansas
6:50 pm 14 Colorado State vs. 3 Duke
6:55 pm 13 Tulsa vs. 4 Dayton
All Times Pacific

Sunday, March 16, 2003

First, let me say that the only schools that truly deserve to be in the tourney are the conference champions. It is hard to sympathize with Texas Tech losing four more games than it won in the Big-12 being "snubbed", or Boston College getting shafted after it played a soft schedule. But still, Alabama getting in is a joke; essentially, the selection committee decreed that any school ever ranked No. 1 during the season would get a pass, no matter how mediocre it played down the stretch. BTW, here's the NIT field, for those of you without lives.

In other games of interest, Oregon won the Pac-10 Tournament, holding off a valiant effort by USC, 74-66. Pitt won its first ever Big East tournament, 74-56, avenging last year's loss to UConn. Duke rallied in the second half to beat NC State, 84-77, preventing the Wolfpack from duplicating its memorable run through the ACC Tournament from twenty years ago. Kentucky showed why it has a good chance to win a game or two this season, remaining perfect in the SEC after edging Mississippi St., 64-57. In the Big-12 Final, Oklahoma edged Missouri in a rematch of last year's West Regional Final, 49-47, perhaps assuring it of a No. 1 seed in spite of scoring only a dozen points in the second half, and Illinois ended the tournament hopes of Ohio State, 72-59, in the Big-10 championship.

BIG WEST: For the fourth time in five years, the Utah St. Aggies will be a part of March Madness, following its 57-54 win over Cal Poly(S.L.O.). For those of you from out of state, S.L.O. stands for San Luis Obispo, a beautiful little town about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, and the location of the longest court appearance (in terms of mileage, not duration) I was ever paid to make. I know nothing about the game except what I read here, as I had passed out about five minutes after watching the finish of the game, below, at Hooters in Santa Monica.

MOUNTAIN WEST: For the second time today, a school lost a conference final on its home court, and will have to watch the tournament at home with the rest of us, on TNN or Nickelodeon. Colorado St. rallied late and upset UNLV, 62-61, in Las Vegas to win the Mountain West title, and, together with BYU and Utah, assure the conference of at least three schools in the first round. Brian Greene hit the game-winning shot with just over five seconds left to put CSU, a school that just two weeks ago was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, in the tournament. The Runnin' Rebels' slim chances of an at-large bid probably evaporated when the Rams, rather than BYU, made the conference final.

WESTERN: Playing the conference tournament on its home court, and not having to worry about the regular season champion, Fresno St., assured Tulsa of yet another NCAA bid, as it easily dispatched Nevada, 75-64.

MID-AMERICAN: The conference no one wants to play in the first round will send its regular season champion to the Dance. Central Michigan, alma mater of Dan Majerle, who led the Chippewas to their last appearance in 1987, decisively beat Kent State, 77-67, at the Gund Arena in Cleveland. Kent State, a Final 8 loser to Indiana last season, will probably hope in vain for an at-large selection.

SOUTHWESTERN: In the last game of Davey Whitney's coaching career, his Alcorn State Braves fell to Texas Southern, 77-68. Whitney had coached at the historically black college for 27 years, including an appearance in the play-in game of last year's NCAA Tournament. The Tigers, whose last appearance in the tournament, against Arkansas in 1995, almost resulted in one of the most shocking upsets in NCAA history, will likely play UNC Asheville on Tuesday for the right to play Kentucky.

ATLANTIC 10: Playing on its home court, Dayton raced out to a 14-0 lead and held off Temple, 79-72. The Owls, second place finishers in conference after playing a brutal non-conference schedule, will settle for an NIT berth.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

MID-EASTERN: Hampton's two-year reign as conference champion ended today with a 72-67 loss to South Carolina State. The Bulldogs overcame a large first-half lead by the Pirates behind 21 points by Thurman Zimmerman. Hampton had been the darling of bracket busters across the country the last two years, beating Iowa State in 2001 and narrowly losing to Kansas last year as a 15th seed.

CONFERENCE USA: Louisville, a national power for over thirty years, won its first conference championship since it joined Conference USA ten years ago, beating UAB, 83-78. The Cardinals withstood a late rally from the Blazers, who twice had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final thirty seconds, only to squander their breaks with boneheaded shot selection. It will be Rick Pitino's first trip to the NCAA Tournament since he took Kentucky to the Finals against Arizona in 1997.

AMERICA EAST: Vermont qualified for its first NCAA Tournament with a last-second, 56-55 upset over conference regular season champion Boston U. The Catamounts (whatever that is) become the first school to qualify this year on the home court of its opponent.

My postings on the Pac-10 tournament can be found at Off-Wing Opinion.

Friday, March 14, 2003

SOUTHLAND: A school most famous for being the alma mater of LBJ, Sam Houston State, won its first ever bid to the Big Dance with an 69-66 win in overtime over Stephen F. Austin.

PATRIOT: For the third straight year, Holy Cross will go to the NCAA Tournament, rallying late to beat American, 72-64, in a game played on its home court. The Crusaders have now won 12 straight games.

Only two things will survive a nuclear war: cockroaches and Jim Harrick.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

In other tournament news, the most significant game involved traditional power Cincinnati losing to Southern Miss, 63-61, in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament. Such a loss won't help the struggling Bearcats, but I'm inclined to believe that a high RPI and one of the toughest schedules in the country (including a blow-out win over fellow Bubblite Oregon at a neutral court) should get them into the tournament with a 17-11 record.
Today's tournament schedule, all times Eastern.

BIG SKY: Weber State, winner of at least one game in its last two NCAA appearances (over Mich. St. in 1995, and over No. Carolina in 1999), is back, following its thrilling 60-57 win over Eastern Washington. The Wildcats will probably be seeded higher than 14th this season; they have an RPI ranking of 44, and could have made a case for an at-large berth had they lost. The Eagles lost in the Big Sky Final for the third straight year, each time to a different school.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

NORTHEAST: The first ever all-NYC tournament championship ended with the school from Staten Island beating the school from Brooklyn to advance to the NCAA Tournament, with Wagner defeating St. Francis(NY), 78-61. Jermaine Hall paced the Seahawks with 27 points, giving legendary air-ball shooter Dereck Whittenberg his first tournament game as a coach.

As I mentioned several weeks ago, CBS plans to switch coverage of the NCAA tournament to its Viacom subsidiaries in the event a war with Iraq starts next week. Besides taking the Big Dance off of network TV for the first two rounds, and on to cable stations not available throughout the United States, it will change the broadcasting of the games in one significant way. Unlike CBS, which can branch off different games to its affiliates, depending on local interest, the channels in questions, TNN, Nickelodeon and TV Land, are limited in the number of feeds; in fact, only TNN has an east and west coast feed, so local fans of, lets say, Maryland, might not get to see their team play if Duke is on at the same time. None of this should affect people like myself, who take up residence in sports bars for the duration, or those smart enough to have DirecTV, but it will constitute yet another blow against the sport, which relies upon the tournament for its revenue and to make up for its low ratings during the regular season. [Link via Counterspin]

MID-CONTINENT: Neither Indiana nor Purdue have qualified for the tournament yet, but Indiana-Purdue (or IUPUI) has, following last night's 66-64 squeaker over long-time conference powerhouse Valparaiso. The Jaguars are the fifth team so far to qualify for the NCAA's for the first time, only a few years after making the jump to Division One.

SUNBELT: For the third straight season, Western Kentucky qualifies for the Big Dance with an impressive 64-52 pounding of Middle Tennessee St. The Hilltoppers success was all the more surprising this season in that they did it without star center Chris Marcus, who played only four games this season due to injuries.

HORIZON: Yet another of the satellite schools of a large public university system, Wisc.-Milwaukee, qualified for its first-ever NCAA Tournament with a 69-52 thrashing of regular season champion Butler. The Bulldogs become the third team from a mid-major in the last two days to fail to win their conference tournament, while still possessing a strong chance of qualifying as an at-large team. Last night's feeble start against the Panthers, however (trailing at one point, 21-4), cannot impress the selection committee, which managed to find a way to keep Butler out of last year's tournament, even though they had only two losses the entire season.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

WEST COAST: After three seasons in which they threatened to turn the NCAA tournament upside down, and a fourth in which they complained of a lack of respect in a low seeding they received last year, only to lose, Gonzaga now has to hope for the mercy of the tournament selection committee. The Bulldogs fell, 72-63, in the WCC Tournament final at the "Slim Gym" (ie., the Jenny Craig Arena) to San Diego, but the combination of an RPI rating of 42 and the sudden departure of Fresno State and Georgia from tournament consideration should enable Gonzaga to receive an at-large bid. Jason Keep scored 18 points to lead the Torreros, who had to overcome a 15-3 deficit to start the game.

Monday, March 10, 2003

COLONIAL: UNC Wilmington, the lowest seed to win a game in last year's NCAA tournament (as a 13-seed over USC), will return as conference champions for the second straight year after a 70-62 victory over Drexel. Brett Blizzard, scourge of the Trojans last year, helped the Seahawks withstand a late Dragon challenge by scoring 20 points, including a big three pointer in the final minute.

MISSOURI VALLEY: Nineteenth-ranked Creighton jumped out to a 42-14 first half lead and breezed to a devastating 80-56 win over Southern Illinois. The Salukis, MVC regular season champs and a Sweet Sixteen team last year, still hope to nab an at-large bid, which may have been imperiled by their pathetic effort tonight, including making only one of their first eighteen shots.

METRO ATLANTIC: Manhattan returns to the NCAA field with an impressive 69-54 win over Fairfield. The Jaspers, the MAAC regular season champions, never were headed as they qualify for their first tournament since 1993.

The University of Georgia fired head coach Jim Harrick this afternoon, and has agreed not to participate in either the SEC or NCAA tournaments. The Bulldogs are now the fifth school to have imposed self-discipline before receiving a likely punishment from the NCAA, and are the third team to have passed on a certain trip to the tournament (Michigan and Fresno State being the others). As of today, Georgia is fourth in the RPI ranking, having played what was arguably the toughest schedule in the country.

UPDATE: Jumped the gun a bit, I'm afraid. Georgia has suspended Harrick with pay while it investigates the allegations, but it has not fired him yet.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

IVY: The only conference without a post-season tournament awarded its automatic berth Saturday night, when Penn clinched the Ivy League title with a 69-52 win over Cornell. The Quakers have a deep team, led by a player who has what I believe to be the best name in hoops, Koko Archibong, and are probably the only squad qualifying yesterday that could credibly be described as one of the 65 best teams in the country.

SOUTHERN: East Tennessee State scored a 97-90 victory over UT Chattanooga. The Mocs make their first tournament appearance since 1992, when it upset Arizona in the first round; in fact, back then East Tennessee had a reputation for causing nightmares for opponents in the tourney, losing to Oklahoma by one point as a No. 16 seed in 1989.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

OHIO VALLEY: Austin Peay, a school as well-known for its bracket-busting challenges in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as its famous chant, "Lets Go, Peay", held off a late comeback by Tennessee Tech to advance to the Big Dance, 63-57. The Governors won for the 22nd time in a season best known for an historic game they played at home in mid-February.

BIG SOUTH: With an RPI ranking of 216 before this week, UNC Asheville clinched its first ever NCAA tournament bid in any sport with an 85-71 victory over Radford. At 14-16, the Bulldogs are the 17th school to reach the NCAA tournament with a losing record, and will almost certainly be one of the two participants in the play-in game a week from Tuesday.

ATLANTIC EAST: Troy State is the first school to qualify for the NCAA tournament with a convincing 80-69 win over Central Florida.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

My first job in the legal biz was with an attorney named Carlos Lloreda, and, in celebration of a big win in court this week, he invited me to tonight's USC-Washington game at the Sports Arena. Both squads are young, exuberent, with little in the way of fundamental skills, but both teams played hard, right down to the end. The Huskies kept their hopes alive for a spot in the Pac-10 tournament with a 95-89 win over the Trojans, before a sparse crowd. Enuff said.

One of the nice things about any SC game is that no matter how bad the team is, you can always spend forty minutes just staring at the cheerleaders, er, I mean, Song Girls, oops, make that "Song Leaders". At USC, the same squad works the calendar year, rather than the school year, so the young ladies at the game tonight were not necessarily the same who worked the field during the last football season. A good thing, too, since this team needs some practice before they deserve to wear the turtlenecks. The dancing was inept and spiritless, especially compared with the SC dance squad (a recent innovation patterned after UCLA), which combined the esprit of Laker Girls with the "look" of participants in a "Girls Gone Wild" video.

To those who suggest that maybe their mediocre performance mirrored the inept play of the basketball team, I must remind you that some of strongest squads in Trojan history were during the Tollner and Smith Eras. If the football season isn't going to be as much of a let-down as the basketball season has been for USC fans, the Song Leaders will have to elevate their game by September.

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