My response to the people that said the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament was boring was to say that this could be one of the most entertaining Sweet Sixteen fields of all time. With the lowest total seeds in Sweet Sixteen history, and with everyone having at least a decent efficiency margin, the stage was set for some outstanding basketball.
And this is what we got? 6 games that were blowouts, a game where Pitt won ugly, and one pretty good game between Kansas and Michigan St.? Where are the buzzer beaters this year? Where is the one-shining moment? I mean, I know Levance Fields hitting a 3 pointer was huge against Xavier, but there are thousands of games with 3 pointers to take the lead in the final minutes. I’m talking about the kind of moment you’ll remember in 2 years? So far, I just don’t see it.
Now, I’m the guy who loves championship week more than the NCAA tournament to begin with. I love that the end times of games are staggered (and not simultaneous). I love that there are all kinds of scenarios and reasons to watch random games (like Memphis vs Tulsa). But I don’t think I’m alone in panning this year’s NCAA tournament games.
Perhaps when you see my Sweet Sixteen notes, you’ll understand my frustration. Here they are, and there are only two of them:
1) It was nice to see Gus Johnson earned the announcing duties in one of the four regions. (Behold the power of Bill Simmons and others who have begged for more Gus.)
2) I feel like Jim Nance isn’t a big fan of Clark Kellogg. Kellogg doesn’t feel the need to talk when nothing is going on, and Nance never likes there to be any dead airtime. Thus I get the impression that Nance is frustrated with Kellogg.
Also, due to travel and my attendance at the Minneapolis pod, I missed one story from the early rounds:
3) I’ve written a lot about it in the past, but I thought the best story of the year was what Travis Ford was able to do at Oklahoma St. After Ibrahima Thomas left in December (and left Ok. St. with no true post players), Travis Ford was able to build on his team’s strengths and put together a team that challenged 1 seed Pittsburgh in the second round. It is one thing for coaches to be successful with their own players running their own system, but I think it is even more impressive when a coach is able to adapt and win with the types of players he has one hand. Absent any true post players, Travis Ford adopted a 4-guard lineup mid-season, and as the smaller team increased the pace of games, it was dynamic in wins over Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament and then Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Consider this stat-heads: Last year Oklahoma St. had an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 110.1, which was 65th nationally. This year it ended up at 116.7 or 15th in the Pomeroy’s rankings. That was a tremendous improvement. And while the defensive efficiency slipped slightly due to the smaller lineup, from 93.6 to 96.3, Travis Ford clearly earned my respect for how he handled his team this year.
Most importantly, Byron Eaton, my target for the last 4 years finally delivered some clutch performances. His 7 of 10 from the field, 6 of 7 from the free throw line, 7 assist performance against Tennessee provided a terrific exclamation mark on the season. I can’t be happier to say I was wrong about Eaton and that he finally turned into a terrific clutch player.
4) Finally, Billy Gillispie is out at Kentucky. Let the coaching dominoes begin to fall. And Anthony Grant is in as the coach at Alabama. If I was an Auburn fan, I’d say something like this: A lot of people could make the NCAA tournament twice with Eric Maynor. But I’ve followed the CAA and for VCU to make the field 2 out of 3 years was a lot tougher than it looked. And even if Grant didn’t bring Maynor to VCU himself, he’s had success recruiting in the south when he was an assistant at Florida, so he has a chance to be very successful at Alabama.