March Madness wasn’t as mad as one had hoped, aside from a few late upsets Sunday, the fourth day of the tournament. Duke’s early departure was a sad one for Press publisher Steve Woody but worthy of fist pumps from the rest of the population.
Is Coach K on the hot seat, yet?
Whether the opening weekend of the tournament hammers us with 12-5 upsets or sends the nation’s top teams onward and upward, it’s still the most exciting stretch of days in sports. The joy and devastation alike are worth every second.
But here we are, waiting on 16 teams to battle for NCAA supremacy.
The Sweet 16 tips off Thursday. Here are 16 observations from the NCAA Tournament:
1. What the heck happened in the East Region? In the Midwest, we’ve got the 1, 3, 4 and 7 seeds (7 being Michigan, the hottest team in the country); the South features the top four seeds; and the West gives us 1, 2, 3 and Xavier, the 11-seed. But the East has 3, 4, 7 and 8. No Villanova, no Duke. Are Wisconsin and South Carolina that good? Are Villanova and Duke that bad? Who knows, but we could very easily have a 7 or 8 in the Final Four.
2. Duke is gone! Just thought I’d reemphasize that. I’m a hater. Don’t @ me.
3. Gonzaga is alive! For the last billion years, Gonzaga has gone from Cinderella to tournament regular. Still, Mark Few has never been to a Final Four. The Zags are once again a 1-seed and have shown they’re no pretender. But can they finally get the monkey off their backs?
4. Take the over. Thursday’s and Friday’s games will be good old-fashioned shootouts. Between Michigan vs. Oregon and UCLA vs. Kentucky, those four teams might combine for 6,000 points. Even North Carolina vs. Butler and Arizona vs. Xavier have potential to light up the scoreboards.
5. We didn’t undervalue the Big Ten. I get it, three Big Ten teams made the Sweet 16, compared to just one from the all-powerful ACC. But Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan have always been good. We never doubted that. The rest of the Big Ten was horrible. The teams that didn’t make the tournament never had a chance. Even Michigan State lost by 20 to Kansas. The Big Ten was garbage with a few outliers.
6. Speaking of the Big Ten, shout out Northwestern. Turns out, the Wildcats weren’t exceptional, either, but they made their first tournament in 78 tries and have now set a standard they’ll most likely keep (until their coach leaves to take over at Duke). Good for them.
7. Speaking of Northwestern, shout out my little homie crying his eyes out on national television as his not-that-good Wildcats lost to 1-seed Gonzaga. That’s good fandom. I mean, it’s not that deep, but when you’ve waited 8 grueling years to see your team in the NCAA Tournament, it really messes with your emotions.
8. Who is going to stop Kansas? The Kansas back court is terrifying, and back courts win in March. These are NBA guys playing at the collegiate level. That’s not fair.
9. Do away with the 1-and-done rule. There is absolutely no reason Josh Jackson (aforementioned Kansas guard) should not be playing in the NBA right now.
10. Wisconsin is still soooo borrrringgg. Ethan Happ is a rec-league guy that goes a tad too hard and somehow gets tons of points. Nigel Hayes looks disinterested. Even Bronson Koenig puts me to sleep as he drains infinite 3-pointers. How do they do it every year?
11. I love Bob Huggins. He should be selling me a used Cadillac somewhere, but instead he’s coaching the most tenacious full-court press in the country. And he wears a golfing jacket and sits on a little baby stool as he does it.
12. Lavar Ball needs the Final Four. The father of UCLA phenom Lonzo Ball needs a platform. This guy is trying to make moves, and he needs as much exploitation of college athletes as he can get. Get this guy a press pass!
13. We’re going to miss out on good Caleb Swanigan. After Purdue surely gets bounced by Kansas, the potential Player of the Year will go home and probably to the NBA. That’s a bummer. The guy is a dump truck driving through a Prius factory.
14. We’re three wins away from a Michigan Wolverines movie. I’m sure you’ve heard about the plane wreck. Scary, absolutely. Did it bond the team even tighter? Sure. But Michigan is also very, very good at this thing called basketball, and that’s probably helped them in this little basketball tournament.
15. Officiating is horrible. I could have put this up higher, but I didn’t want to make you mad, and it’s too obvious. But I couldn’t leave it out. Man, how do these guys continue to do it? Missed goal-tend calls, phantom fouls. But the NCAA needs to stretch its tiny budget as far as it can just to make ends meet…
16. Sheridan County was well represented. Former Sheridan College Generals Pablo Rivas (North Carolina Central) and PJ Savoy (Florida State) were bounced early, but Rivas scored 12 against UC Davis, and Savoy scored 10 against Xavier. Sheridan High School’s Robbi Ryan (Arizona State) scored 6 points in two games and her 8-seeded Sun Devils nearly knocked off top-seed South Carolina. It was a great opening weekend for local kids on the big stage.
Mike Pruden is the sports editor at The Sheridan Press.