Notes from the NCAA Tournament: 3rd Round
What is it about the Round of 32 that feels so awkward? It’s too big to have a cool name (Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, etc.) but it’s not nearly as cool as the opening round (I’m not two years old, I don’t consider the First Four the FIRST round), either. Quite simply, it’s the redheaded stepchild of all the levels of the big dance’s bracket.
But that’s not to say there’s nothing to talk about. After watch a #5 (three of them, actually), a #4, a #3, and a #2 seed fall in the last round, we got our first top seed to fall. And that was just the highlight in a flurrying array of another round of, well, March Madness.
Here are some thoughts on the two days of basketball we saw this weekend.
Well, if it makes Georgetown (and their fans) feel any better, it appears there’s something special to this Florida Gulf Coast squad. Being in elite company (only the seventh #15 seed to ever win a game) apparently wasn’t satisfying enough, so the Eagles went out and made history Sunday night, becoming the first #15 seed EVER to advance to the Sweet 16.
That alone would be a good story, but here’s what makes it better: this team is FUN. This group of young men understands that there is exactly 0 pressure on them and they’ve started to play like that on the court. While Georgetown and San Diego State fretted over not getting upset, FGCU ran around creating the closest thing to an in-game And 1 mix tape.
They’re dunking, stealing, playing charades on the sidelines and running roughshod over college basketball’s so-called elite. Who the hell cares how far the Eagles make it? Do what they’re obviously doing and just enjoy the ride.
Sometimes in the tournament, we see the level of play of a team vary drastically from round to round. You know what I’m talking about. We see a team play weak to open up the tournament and, even though they win, we all think, “well, they’re done in two days’ time.” And then they come out and play like one of the best teams in the tournament.
Well, that’s not what happened with Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs looked vulnerable against Southern and that vulnerability proved to be mortal against Wichita State. The Shockers didn’t blow out Gonzaga — in fact, it was a well-fought contest — but keep in mind this is the team that sits ATOP the AP poll. Before Saturday, they had only lost TWO games this season. I don’t care if Wichita State had won by one point in the sixth overtime, this was a bad loss for the Bulldogs.
And one, if you saw the Southern game, you absolutely saw coming.
Can we talk about the crazy twists the story that is La Salle has taken for a minute? Think back to before the brackets were announced. VCU, St. Louis, Butler, and Temple were all pretty much in and we THOUGHT La Salle would probably be there but they’d be a distant fifth.
So the second round goes down and the A-10 goes 5-0. But then, THEN, in the 3rd Round THOSE four go down and it’s the might La Salle Explorers that represent the conference in the Sweet Sixteen.
Seriously, you can’t script this stuff.
But here’s the best part. If La Salle manages to down Wichita State and advance to the regional finals and Arizona beats Ohio State, it’ll mean that the highest-seeded team La Salle faced short of the Final Four will have been in the FIRST round.
How great would it be if THAT trend kept going. Maybe they beat Oregon in the Final Four and then face FGCU for the title. Sound unlikely? Yeah, well, so has a lot of what’s already happened.
Hungry Like The Wolverine
Lost in all the “snub” talk when the bracket came out was the fact that Michigan was probably seeded too low. Yes, they got bounced way too early out of the Big 10 tournament, but it was to Wisconsin, not, say, Penn State (again). If you look at the four #4 seeds, the talent on Michigan’s roster was overwhelmingly superior.
And that superiority shined through on Saturday when they bounced a very dangerous VCU team rather effortlessly. Part of that has to do with the fact that the maize and blue match up very well against the Rams. The OTHER part of that is the fact that Michigan is playing their best basketball at the right time of year.
Ironically, it’s how VCU got to the Final Four two years ago. And now, with the elimination of Georgetown, it’s why Michigan is my new pick to advance out of the south bracket.
The last #4 seed to win the championship was all the way back in 1997, but 2013 could be the year that that all changes. I would contend that Michigan now has one of the easier paths to the Final Four, a trip that would get this squad’s confidence going. And if THAT happens, watch out.
Close Calls Too Close For Comfort
We all know how awful Gonzaga looked this tournament and how it led to a premature departure, but they nearly had quite the company. Ohio State, Indiana, Miami, and Kansas all survived near-disasters to stay alive and advance closer to how far they’re “supposed” to go.
The near-upsets have been so widespread that you can’t even really hold them against the teams that they happened to. It’s the time of the year where bizarre things happen. The NCAA tournament isn’t about thriving, it’s about surviving. There’s no race to the top, just a push to be the last one standing. And, at the end of the day, an ugly win is still a win.
And winning is the only thing that matters.
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