Oh man, I don’t think I’ve seen such an exciting first (real) day of NCAA tournament play. I mean, we had four overtime games and two buzzer beaters yesterday, practically packing a whole tourney’s worth of excitement into Thursday! And hey, I gotta say, my bracket did pretty well in the midst of all of it…
Granted, I lost two teams (Saint Joe’s, NC State) in OT, and another one (Ohio St) in the dying seconds of regulation, but I didn’t have any of them advancing past the next round, anyways. Were it not for picking BYU over Oregon, I could say I was thisclose to a perfect bracket after Day One. But hey, I didn’t have BYU going past the third round either, so my entire Sweet 16 bracket is still intact. I don’t think I’ve ever had all 16 teams make it past the first, erm, second round, but I’ve got at least eight of them still alive, with many more to come. Every game tomorrow means something to me now, but of course, none are more meaningful than Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State this afternoon.
I gotta say, I’ve never been less confident in a Zags first-round matchup, not since I jumped on the bandwagon during their magical run in ’99. Gonzaga has made the tourney every year since then, and they’ve only lost in the round of 64 trice. These first-round losses were symbolic of the end of two eras. In ’02, after their entire roster from that magical ’99 season had moved on, they lost a close contest to Wyoming, of all teams. Then in ’07 and ’08, aka Year One and Year Two AM (After Morrison), they fell to Indiana and Davidson, respectively. I’m pretty sure I had Gonzaga in my Sweet 16 both of those years; I know the Davidson loss was especially costly for my bracket.
But this season, I haven’t advanced the Zags past the third round, where they’d almost certainly meet top-seeded Arizona. In fact, I’m probably in the minority (outside of the Pacific Northwest) who’s even picking them to beat State. I mean, I’ve seen some brackets that had the Cowboys going all the way to the Elite Eight–which means yes, they would even beat Arizona. While I beg to differ, this is still a very good team, ranked ninth in the country as recently as Jan 18, before a late losing streak dropped them out of the Top 25. Three of those losses came with star guard Marcus Smart suspended for shoving a Texas Tech fan–for whom I certainly have no sympathy.
But you know what? Even with Smart on the court–and scoring 23 points, no less–Gonzaga edged OK State, in Stillwater, on New Year’s Eve…2012. Of course, like I said the other day, Gonzaga isn’t quite the same team as last year. You might even call it the end of an era, although the Kelly Olynyk era lasted just one magical season. But it helps that we’ve seen this team before, even if Gonzaga’s current starting frontcourt was coming off the bench in that one. I still think this team could repeat the feat–but hey, there’s a reason I’m not picking them to move past the third round, and it’s not just because Arizona is awesome.
Here’s who else I like in today’s games:
12:15 pm: Duke over Mercer – Obvious win is obvious. Mercer hasn’t even made the tourney since 1985, when they had some kid named Sam Mitchell manning the paint. I half-expect him to call for the upset during the TSN broadcast today, which might make him the only person in North America picking Mercer over Duke.
12:40 pm: Nebraska over Baylor — On the other hand, I’m the one calling for the upset here. Nebraska actually knocked off both Michigan State and Wisconsin this season, two teams I’ve got in my Final Four. Baylor’s biggest wins were against Kentucky and Oklahoma State teams that subsequently fell off the map, and an Oklahoma squad that’s already out of the tourney. Plus, I’m pretty sure the entire state of Nebraska would go nuts over a Nebraksa-Creighton matchup in the Round of 32. Better start stalk, erm, stocking up on corn…
1:40 pm: New Mexico over Stanford – Quick, name me one player from the current Stanford squad. Unless you’re an alum, you probably can’t do it. And while I’m not intimately familiar with New Mexico’s team, either, I’m assuming the Mountain West champs are ranked 17th for a reason–in which case, a seven-seed might actually be a little low.
2:10 pm: Arizona over Weber State – Can you imagine how many brackets would be busted if Arizona actually lost this game? Then again, can you imagine Arizona actually losing this game? Me neither.
2:45 pm: Tennessee over UMass – I know I had originally slotted Iowa into the Midwest 11 seed, but that doesn’t change my hate-on for the A10. Saint Joe’s is already gone, Saint Louis ought to have lost to a 12 seed, and both finished higher than UMass in the conference. But hey, I guess they could always pull a Dayton…
3:10 pm: Creighton over Louisiana-Lafayette – The only thing the Ragin’ Cajuns have got going for them is arguably the most awesome logo in the tourney. Sure, they scored a lotta points in the Sun Belt against a buncha schools I’ve never heard of, but they lost to Baylor by 19 and Louisville by a whopping 39 points. I think the Blue Jays are OK here.
4:10 pm: Kansas over Eastern Kentucky — Put it this way: there are two great basketball schools in the state of Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky isn’t one of them. Also, their logo looks like Colonel Sanders. Which reminds me, I still need to try that Big Boss sandwich…
4:40 pm: Gonzaga over Oklahoma State – Hey, at least I won’t be distracted by the Kansas-EKU game. GO ZAGS!!!
6:55 pm: Memphis over George Washington – How did the A10 get six bids again? George Washington did defeat Creighton in December, but they lost to Dayton, UMass, Saint Louis and twice to VCU. And, despite the committee’s lack of love for the AAC, Memphis actually knocked off Louisville twice. This game might not be as close as their records suggest.
7:10 pm: Wichita State over Cal Poly — Yeah, Wichita State didn’t face a lotta tough competition this season, but I’m pretty sure there are 3-4 teams in the MVC that could kick the shit outta Cal Poly.
7:20 pm: North Carolina over Providence – Although they might not be in the mix this year, UNC is still just two years removed from two straight Elite Eight appearances. I’m pretty sure Providence still longs for the days of Rick Pitino–this is the first time they’ve even made the tourney in 10 years, and they haven’t won a tournament game since ’97.
7:27 pm: VCU over Stephen F. Austin – VCU is the only A10 team, and the only five-seed, I’ve picked to advance in my bracket this year. If you want a true conference of nobodies, check out the Southland. Stephen F. Austin’s perfect conference record looks less impressive when you can’t even name any of the schools they were up against.
9:25 pm: Virginia over Coastal Carolina – I couldn’t even tell you which conference Coastal Carolina plays in.
9:40 pm: Kentucky over Kansas State – There are a few people out there picking Kentucky to beat Wichita State in third round. I’m not one of those people, but I do think they’ll knock off this lesser Kansas school in the round of 64.
9:50 pm: Iowa State over North Carolina Central – Geez, how many basketball schools are there in North Carolina, anyways?
9:57 pm: UCLA over Tulsa – I just found out that Conference USA has 16 schools now. And yet ,Tulsa’s the only one that made the tourney. They lost by 10 to Creighton and 23 to Wichita State, and also to 10 other teams not worth mentioning. I think UCLA is safe in this one.