March Madness is rarely ever madness. It’s usually more like March Mediocrity. For a tournament based around the upset, the impossible comeback, the feel-good story and the half-court buzzer-beater, it’s a tournament that is hardly ever defined by these things.
Thursday was unlike any first-round day I can remember. It had everything you could ask for in a day of 16 games, and then some. If you needed to explain March Madness to someone who had never seen or heard of it, Thursday became the textbook example of how March Madness should look.
Eleven underdogs covered the spread and seven of them won their games outright. At 12:49 a.m., on Friday morning, just over 12 hours after BYU and Florida tipped off the day, the final buzzer sounded on New Mexico and Montana, ending Montana’s season and the first day at the same time. But even after watching college basketball for 12 straight hours on Thursday, it left me wishing there was a fifth round of games set to tip off in the 1:00 a.m. hour on Friday morning. Friday at noon just seemed like too long of a wait after Thursday’s results, even though it seemed unrealistic to think that the emotional swings of Day 1 could be replicated for a second straight day.
Friday would have been a good tournament day any year other than 2010. There were four upsets and seven underdogs covered, but compared to Thursday, it was a letdown. But when the first day of the tournament includes seven games decided by three points or less and three games that went to overtime with one going to double overtime, it makes it a tough act to follow.
The first 24 hours of tournament basketball lived up to the excitement that the first round makes possible. There were enough close scores and close calls to make you believe that this year might include a Christian Laettner, Lorenzo Charles or Tate George, and enough upsets occurred to make you believe that there might be a George Mason in this year’s bracket. Murray State gave the world some new footage for future buzzer-beater ads, and like Murray State, Ohio, Old Dominion and Cornell have given people reason to believe in Cinderella stories again.
I don’t care that my bracket looks like Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel managed it. I’m just happy to see teams without last names on the back of their jerseys shooting lights out from behind the arc, and big-name schools with big-name players exiting the tournament every hour.
After two days of basketball and 24 hours of actual games, there has been a lot thrown at viewers. To this point, the tournament has been like a semester of work taught in a week, and I’m not even sure I have been able to process everything that has happened after one round of play. But here are five things the first round made me think about in what has truly been “madness:”
1. The Big East isn’t as good as advertised
The majority of regular season college basketball I watch is Big East basketball. Actually I would say 90 percent of any non-NCAA tournament college basketball I watch is Big East basketball. This is mainly because all of the local teams are from the conference and also because it is believed to have the most elite teams and the top talent in the country.
I pick my bracket every year with a Big East bias and always advance every Big East team to at least the second round. But after the first-round debacle, the Big East and I aren’t really on good terms.
It hurts me to say, but maybe the Big East just isn’t as good as it is cracked up to be. I mean you can’t lose of three of four on Day 1 and have losses to No. 11 Old Dominion, No. 11 Washington and No. 14 Ohio and a near loss to No. 15 Robert Morris and think your credibility will remain intact. And if you’re Rick Pitino and Louisville, how do you start a game down 22-4 to a Pac-10 team?
Three of the bigger names in the conference (Luke Harangody, Scottie Reynolds and Greg Monroe) all had forgettable performances. The trio did little to convince anyone on the national level that they are some of the most talented players in the country. And they also managed to make it possible for basketball enthusiasts to question who they are compiling their regular season stats against. If the Big East can’t win in the tournament, just how bad are the teams from the conference that didn’t make the tournament?
2. No need for 96 teams
If you thought that expanding the tournament to 96 teams was a good idea, then the first round should have changed your mind. In a down year for elite teams and true contenders, the upsets were aplenty and it is obvious the committee had a tough time seeding the teams that did qualify.
The addition of 32 more teams will just water down a talent pool that was already watered down this year. If the NCAA wants to take away the importance of the regular season and the conference tournaments, then a 96-team tournament is a great idea. But if they want to keep with tradition and make a decision that makes the most sense with finances aside, then keeping the tournament as it is would be the right choice.
But who am I kidding? In the end, the NCAA sees dollar signs for a bigger tournament as they get closer to negotiating a long-term deal for the TV rights. And the NCAA doesn’t care that the 2009-10 UConn Huskies would be in the NCAA Tournament under their new format, they just care about maximum profit. Whether or not that comes at the cost of talent or the postseason’s integrity is irrelevant.
3. Sloppy seeding
Everyone loves a good upset, but this year, upsets have become the norm. Seven underdogs won on Thursday and another four won on Friday with 18 underdogs covering the spread in the first 32 games. Maybe it goes back to the fact that there is a lack of elite teams this season, but aside form the No. 1-seed’s games, just about every game was entertaining all the way through.
Take Notre Dame for example. The Fighting Irish were a team that wasn’t even in the tournament just a couple of weeks ago and without Harangody playing a significant role down the stretch, it looked like they wouldn’t even make the bubble. But a decent finish for Notre Dame got them in the tournament and they were seeded as No. 6 team. Now maybe some people agree that that s a seed they deserved, but it just doesn’t make sense that a team that nearly missed making the tournament could be seeded in the top half of the teams. But Old Dominion ousted them early on the first day to start a trend throughout the first round.
7-seeds went 1-3 against 10-seeds, and 6-seeds went 2-2 against 11-seeds. There shouldn’t be that match equality between teams seeded that differently, and maybe all of the upsets that occurred weren’t upsets at all. Maybe they were just products of poor team evaluation by the committee.
4. Jimmer could be the next Stephen
There isn’t anyone who isn’t pulling for Jimmer Fredette and BYU (unless you have Kansas State advancing in your bracket). Fredette put on a show in the first round with his unorthodox layup style and his sharp shooting, as BYU knocked off Florida in double overtime.
Fredette seems to be this year’s player who has the chance to make himself a lot of money if he can keep BYU in the win column and advance to the Sweet 16. Like Stephen Curry did with Davidson a few years back, Fredette has a chance to turn himself into a household name and build some serious draft stock.
I have talked about Jimmer with every person I have talked to over the last two days about the tournament. For those that have seen him, we have talked about how badly we are pulling for him and BYU to make a long run in this thing. And for those that haven’t seen him, I have hyped him up so much that anything short of 30 points against Kansas State will probably be a disappointment for anyone that has listened to me. But watch Jimmer in the second round on Saturday and you will be happy you did. At least I hope you are.
5. A bad slate for Gus
It’s too bad viewers of the tournament didn’t get their first taste of Gus Johnson until Friday with all of the nail-biters and close games that took place on Thursday. And it’s even worse that he was stuck in Buffalo where the games were decided by 28, 8, 7 and 23 points.
The Vermont upset of Syracuse that, for some unknown reason, people seemed to believe would happen didn’t happen. Gus was held from creating new levels of bedlam with a true upset (Missouri over Clemson was a game of equals) in his region, and it was a shame that he was taken out of the games he broadcasted because of such lopsided scores. Hopefully Gus will be given a chance to give a call for the ages over the weekend. The tournament isn’t the same without him getting at least one impossible shot to fall.