Saturday, March 22, 2008

Duke's Weakness and Other Round 1 Observations

With Dana O’Neil of ESPN and Stewart Mandel of SI assigned to the Washington DC region, I’m assuming you can get your game recaps elsewhere. But here’s a look back at some of the minutiae from a fun first day of basketball at the Verizon Center:


In case you’ve never been to an NCAA tournament event, let me remind you that it isn’t for everyone. If you have no attention span and need to be bombarded with advertisements every five minutes, or if you need to consume large quantities of alcohol, well go see a Wizards game. The NCAA bans alcohol at NCAA events and the NCAA forces the host stadiums to cover up all the normal banner ads. For some reason this always amuses me to see black curtains covering the ads for Coke and Sprint. I mean who else has this power? But I’m particularly thankful that the ads are suppressed during the commercial breaks. Honestly, a person can only take so many Chic-Fil-A Shake Cams in their lifetime.

So what happens without all the normal advertisements? Two things. First, the NCAA has a nice scroll of trivia that it plays on the video screen during the breaks. At first these seem amusing, until they repeat for the third time.

-“First they tell you nobody’s perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their mind.” - Wilt Chamberlain

-Syracuse Freshman Carmelo Anthony came from the Red Hook district of New York.

-Dennis Hastert played football for Wheaton College.

The great thing is that they must have made up these trivia questions a few years ago, and no one bothered to update them.

-Duke was the last team to win back-to-back NCAA basketball championships.

Oh really, I wonder what Florida thinks about that.

Speaking of Florida, the unintentional comedy moment of the day may have come during the Georgia-Xavier game. The screen at center court began playing the Florida fight song with the trivia question, “Whose fight song is this?” The entire Georgia section began booing immediately. Then the Georgia fans started up an NIT chant. I mean who chants NIT at a video screen? Ah, rivalries.

OK, so besides the trivia, the other nice thing about no advertisements is that the pep bands get plenty of time. Personally, my heart always gets pumping whenever I hear a pep band play The Final Countdown, Carry on My Wayward Son, and Eye of the Tiger. But these were not the only amusing band notes on this day. First, Purdue’s pep band put down their instruments and sang Living on a Prayer a cappella. I’m not sure if that is a normal thing, but it sure seemed silly. Second, I really enjoyed watching West Virginia’s band director flip his lid and yell at the NCAA staff because the Arizona pep band kept playing longer than they were supposed to. Good stuff.

Random Note #6: My wife encountered a Purdue fan discussing the proper positioning of her Purdue buttons and Purdue pins.

Random Note #7: Vince Gill was in the arena supporting Belmont. He joins Ashley Judd, Nick Lachey, and Condaleeza Rice among the list of quasi-famous people I have seen at games.

Random Note #8: Megaphones work. The Purdue and West Virginia cheerleaders had this figured out, but no one else did.

So what about the games?

Xavier – Georgia

I think a player had to leave due to an injury in every game on Thursday. It all started with an elbow to the eye of Xavier’s CJ Anderson who left the game temporarily before returning.

This was a fun game where Georgia built a lead, but Xavier came back to win. The funny thing about these NCAA tournament games is that the defense is often so good that you need some easy baskets to get a victory. In the first half, it was Georgia that got the steals and transition baskets, but in the second half Xavier used those same turnovers and transition baskets to seal the comeback.

Purdue - Baylor

Going into the tournament I knew Baylor had a suspect defense, but who would have thought that a Big Ten team could score 90 points? For a game that was never close, this was still a lot of fun to watch just to see the Purdue players knock down jumper after jumper. It was really an offensive clinic.

Also, I desperately hope that Baylor Junior Curtis Jerrells doesn’t jump to the NBA this off-season. He is flat out unstoppable in the final five minutes of any game and he scored 27 points in the loss. No one showed more emotion when it became apparent that Baylor was going to lose than Jerrells, but he clearly gave it his all. And if the team had been down by single digits in the final minutes, I think he could have single-handedly carried Baylor to victory.

The Big Ten desperately needs a coach like Scott Drew and a team like Baylor.

Duke – Belmont

Going into this game, I figured I would get nachos about five minutes into the game to keep from getting bored. Boy was I wrong.

I’m not sure what the announcers identified on TV, but the thing that shocked me was how many backdoor cuts the Belmont Bruins got against Duke. Duke was consistently overplaying to get the steal and deny the three and it seemed like Belmont was killing them all day with backdoor cuts. Obviously my Hoyas use backdoor cuts, but because the Big East knows this, Georgetown might only get one backdoor cut a game in Big East play. Belmont got at least 8 of these against Duke. It was insane. Add to that the fact that Belmont knocked down all their open threes, and DC clearly had the most exciting game of the day.

Hats off to the Duke fan behind me. She shouted “Go Devils” at least 43 times during the game, but she never got down on her team. This was just a dream scenario for a neutral site atmosphere. Duke brought a large contingent of fans, and whenever Belmont scored, you had the West Virginia, Arizona, and Belmont fans going crazy. There’s nothing more amusing than seeing a group of West Virginia fans try to figure out how to chant along to the Belmont fight song.

Two other thoughts:
-Brian Zoubek of Duke really has hands of steal. I know Coach K was trying to get his confidence up, but at this point, I think you need to admit he’s not going to be dependable in a pressure situation this year. I’d much rather see Taylor King in there if I was a Duke fan.
-There seemed to be some criticism of the Belmont coaches in the post-game for the use of timeouts, but no one in the stadium seemed to be complaining about this.

West Virginia - Arizona

West Virginia was a nightmare match-up for Arizona who wanted to play faster and get away without playing much defense. I thought the Wildcats did a nice job staying competitive, but eventually West Virginia just wore the Wildcats down.

The West Virginia fans always make the commute to the Verizon Center and they clearly even scooped up some of the Belmont tickets. West Virginia was the only school at the tournament to get a dueling chant going from one end of the stadium to the other. As a Georgetown fan, I often dread the sound of the “Let’s go Mountain-eers” chant in the Verizon Center, but on this day I was happy to salute a fine effort.

Friday's Action

Friday had some terrific upsets, but it also means we can already pencil in UCLA and Kansas for the Elite Eight. Who knew the upset pod would be in Tampa? I’m not sure what was more amazing, the plays San Diego made to go around, over, and under Hasheem Thabeet, the buzzer beater by Western Kentucky, or the Scottie Reynolds banked three pointer and the Corey Fisher three as the shot clock expired?