NCAA’s first weekend very Middle American
Ten winners and losers from the first week of the NCAA tournament:
Winner: The Heartland. It’s where the winners are.
If you got in the car at Indiana University in Bloomington at 8 a.m., you could visit seven Sweet 16 schools by 5 p.m. Go about 105 miles south to the University of Louisville. Then travel about 75 miles east to the University of Kentucky. From there head north about 90 miles to the University of Cincinnati. Then it’s a quick five miles across town to Xavier University. Next is a 115-mile drive northeast to Ohio State University. Finally after an 85-mile drive southeast, you’ve arrived at Ohio University.
This is the game’s fertile crescent. North Carolina is the only place with comparable fan passion and tradition to this group of schools (and behold, Tobacco Road has two representatives in the Sweet 16 in North Carolina and North Carolina State). If you visit the trophy cases at those schools, you’d find hardware from 17 national championships - seven at Kentucky, five at Indiana, two apiece at Louisville and Cincinnati and one at Ohio State.
Specifically, the state of Ohio has bragging rights. Four schools are from there, the most from a single state in Sweet 16 history. It won’t be the state’s last spotlight moment of 2012; it will again play a huge role in deciding the presidential election as well.
[Related: Indiana eager for big rematch with Kentucky]
Loser: Drama. Zero buzzer-beating shots. Zero overtime games. There were plenty of close games (21 games decided by six or fewer points). There were plenty of big shots. (Xavier guard Tu Holloway’s fadeaway banker over Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley with 21 seconds left Friday night was the best in my book.) But there were no sudden-victory moments that help make this tournament the greatest sporting event on Earth. Maybe the next two weeks will make up for that.
Winner: Adidas electric uniforms. Before the conference tournaments started, the sneaker company put three of its premier schools in uniforms that actually seem to glow in the dark and likely visible from space: Louisville, Cincinnati and Baylor. All three are in the Sweet 16. Gotta be the unis.
In fact, the combined record of those three schools since putting on the new uniforms is 15-2, and one of those losses was Adidas-on-Adidas crime, when Louisville beat Cincinnati for the Big East tournament title.
Loser: Mid-majors. Yeah, Lehigh and Norfolk State provided the first-ever one-two knockout punches from No. 15 seeds in the same tournament - great stuff. But 14 of the remaining 16 teams are from the power conferences (four each from the Big East and Big Ten, and two each from the Big 12, SEC and ACC). And of the other two, one is Xavier - hardly an underdog program.
So salute Ohio, the standard-bearer for the little guys. All the Bobcats have to do to keep rolling is take out North Carolina. No sweat.
Winner: Kentucky. As if the pre-tournament favorite needed any breaks, it got the following: the ineligibility of Syracuse center Fab Melo, the wrist fracture of North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall and the upset ouster of the No. 2 seed in the Wildcats’ region, Duke. That’s in addition to pre-tournament injuries to Michigan State guard Branden Dawson and North Carolina forward John Henson.
If I’m John Calipari, I play the lottery Monday. Everything is breaking his way.
[Pat Forde: Kentucky still going strong on run for title]
Loser: The western half of the United States. There are no teams still dancing from the Pacific or Mountain time zones. Everyone west of Waco has been sent home. This tournament confirmed what we’ve been saying all along: It was a lousy season for hoops out West.
Everyone knew the Pac-12 stunk. But the four Mountain West teams were dismissed ingloriously, and the three West Coast Conference schools didn’t do anything special after BYU’s record-setting comeback in the First Four.
Winner: Experienced coaches. Don’t think that doesn’t matter in March.
Fourteen of the 16 remaining coaches have been this far before. The two that haven’t, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Ohio’s John Groce, had at least previously won games in the NCAA tourney.
Nine of the 16 coaches have been to the Final Four: Kentucky’s John Calipari, Indiana’s Tom Crean, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kansas’ Bill Self. Of that group, six have won national championships: Izzo, Pitino, Donovan, Boeheim, Williams and Self.
Loser: Academics. Remember all the NCAA puffery about how a football playoff was problematic because players would miss too much school? Remember the insistence by the NCAA on using the term “student-athlete”? Remember the NCAA slogan about how most of the athletes in college will be going pro in something else?
Well, those academically committed souls in Indianapolis signed off on starting four Sunday games at 7:10 Eastern or later - the last of them, Cincinnati-Florida State, actually tipped off at 10 p.m. and finished after midnight. On a school night.
In prior years, Sunday games always were played in the afternoon; they were done by the time 60 Minutes started, which was at 7 p.m. Eastern. That schedule at least theoretically gave those teams (and their band, cheerleaders, etc.) a chance to be back on campus Sunday night and go to class Monday.
Not this year. I’m sure this was a ratings-driven decision, dribbling out games one at a time during the afternoon, then saturating the market Sunday night with overlapping games, when a whole bunch of Americans watch TV.
Combine that with the fact that the winning teams in the execrable First Four missed almost every class last week, and this is the most academically un-friendly basketball tournament in NCAA history.
Winner: Seniors. Remember them? They still exist, and they’re still important.
Among the senior stars from the first weekend: Draymond Green of Michigan State; Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease of Xavier; Darius Miller of Kentucky; Scoop Jardine of Syracuse; Kyle Kuric of Louisville; Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin; Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon of Cincinnati; Erving Walker of Florida; Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder of Marquette; William Buford of Ohio State; Tyler Zeller of North Carolina; and Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas.
Even in an era where underclassmen can dominate, you might not see as many freshmen and sophomores in starring roles as you do seniors.
Loser: Frank Haith. After a brilliant debut season in Columbia, Haith presided over a horrific ending - a loss to Norfolk State that ranks among the biggest upsets in tournament history. It only got worse when Norfolk proceeded to lose to Florida by 34 points.
And it will continue to get worse when Haith faces life without the five seniors who were in his seven-man rotation. Not to mention when he faces the NCAA enforcement music about potential violations on his watch while the coach at Miami. Nobody knows what Missouri basketball will look like when the 2012-13 season tips off.
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