Sunday, March 18, 2007

March Madness: the Sweet 16 is set...

...and my bracket is toast!

It took four days and two rounds before we finally got our first major, MAJOR upset, and coincidentally it took four days and two rounds before I made my unofficial exit from the office pool.

With a 74-68 loss to the 7th seeded UNLV Runnin' Rebels, #2 seed Wisconsin earned the dubious distinction of being the highest seed to be eliminated from the 2007 tournament, and the Texas Longhorns' uninspired flogging at the hands of the USC Trojans ensured my early exit from the Big Dance as well.
I love the smell of March Madness in the morning- top seeds' title hopes being doused on the first weekend and getting eliminated from your lucrative & prestigious office pool is what it's all about. It's a tradition unlike any other...oh wait, that's a couple of weeks from now.

Unlike yesterday, when all but one of the games were decided by less than 10 points, today's results were exactly opposite; of the 8 contests only 3 saw final margins in single digits, and the average margin of victory for the 8 games was 11.5.

In ESPN-speak, yesterday was Don't Change the Channel Saturday and today would have been Catch Up on Yardwork Sunday.

So now the 16 finalists are set to begin CBS' version of a dance-off starting Thursday night. Before I get to the next round, let's put a wrap on the final day of the first weekend of MM.

-1Florida holds off 9Purdue, 74-67, but suffers from another shaky 1st half
For the second straight game the top-seeded Gators had a rocky first half that made the team expend extra energy in order to mount a game-winning comeback. Top teams can sometimes get away with that kind of behavior in the early rounds, but if Florida wants to become the first repeat champion since the 1991-92 Blue Devils, that's a surefire way to have its dreams come back and chomp them in the ass.

Trailing by as many as 5 points, the Gators went into the break facing a deficit for the first time since Feb. 27th. Just as it did the other night against Jackson State, howeva, Florida used a big (18-9) run to jump in front, 47-40, with 10:35 left to play. The game was nip/tuck the rest of the way, but consecutive treys by Taurean Green (14 pts) and late contributions by Al Horford (17 pts, 9 rebs) and Corey Brewer (17 pts, 8 rebs) helped the Gators advanced to the round of 16, its chance of repeating still intact.

They'll take on upstart Butler on Friday night in St. Louis, and I would love to see the Bulldogs test the Gators all the way to the end of the game, not just for one half.

-USC avenges 2006 Rose Bowl loss by dismantling the Longhorns, 87-68

Kevin Durant may be the best player in college basketball and one of the finest freshmen to come along in the last 20 years, but come tourney time a team usually cannot revolve around one player, especially a frosh, and hope to advance. Unless that player was named Carr, Robertson or Magic.

Never was this adage ever more obvious than in #4 Texas' disheartening loss at the hands of a solid Trojans team. Durant had his customary night- 30 points and 9 boards-but the disciplined Trojans clamped down on the rest of the Longhorns players, holding scintillating frosh point guard DJ Augustin to just 6 points and allowing only one other Longhorn, sophomore guard AJ Abrahms, to reach double figures.

Meanwhile USC had all five starters reach double digits, led by junior swingman Nick Young's 22 points, and got a double-double (17 pts & 14 rebs) from its freshman sensation, forward Taj Gibson. After enjoying a comfortable lead for most of the first half, USC allowed Texas to climb back to within six, 36-30, just minutes into the second. But a devastating 16-3 run, capped by a fast break one-handed jam by Young, pretty much slammed the door on any thoughts of a comeback.

I'm not sure if the Longhorns underestimated the Trojans in this one or if it's just a case of the talented but young team taking its press clippings too seriously, but either way it was a disappointing and lackluster effort for a team that I, along with many other, thought had a chance to do something special.

That's what happens when you pin your hopes and dreams on the back of one talented, young kid. Hopefully the Celts will be finding that out a few months from now, unless Danny Ainge f**ks it up.

-Father's Day in Vegas: Krueger's son helps dad get back to the Sweet 16
Not since the days of Tark the Shark, Richard "The Fixer" Perry and The Great Hot Tub Incident of 1990 have the Runnin' Rebs of UNLV enjoyed such tournament success.

Lon Krueger, the former Gator and Illinois coach, became just the 5th coach to take three different teams to the Sweet 16, and the Rebs rode the sharpshooting of Krueger's son Kevin to a huge upset of #2 seed Wisconsin. Kevin, who followed his dad to the desert after transferring from Arizona State, scored 17 points, shaking off a 1-17 shooting slump to nail three straight treys in the second half that swung the game in the Reb's favor.

Although stud teammates Alando Tucker (17 pts) and Kammron Taylor (24) did their part to keep Wisconsin in the game, once again a lack of firepower doomed the offensively deficient Badgers. Tucker finished his career in Madison as the Badgers all-time leading scorer, but the pain of being so close to ending with a championship team will last a long time-0 at least until June, when those NBA millions start rolling in.

Other results from today's snoozers:

-The Volunteers slacked off quite a bit from their 121-point effort in the opening game, but the 77 it scored today was just enough to fend off pesky Virginia by three. J.R. Reynolds kept the Cavs in it in the first half, when he scored 22 of his 28 points, but after twisting an ankle he was ineffective in the second half and the Vols advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2000.

-Oregon slapped Winthrop back to reality with a 75-61 victory that wasn't even that close. The loss by the Eagles ensured there will be no double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995. It also ensured for me another game of witnessing those putrid Ducks unis in stunning HD-not a pretty sight, I can assure you.

-Memphis extended its winning streak to a staggering 24 games, longest in the nation, by wiping out the Nevada Wolf Pack, 78-62. Much like USC, Memphis led the way with a balanced attack; 4 players scored in double figures and eight Tigers in all scored at least 2 points. Up next for the relatively untested Tigers is battle-tested Texas A&M, but Memphis better hope leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts recovers from a twisted ankle to play on Thursday, or the streak may end at 24.

-The Virginia Tech Hokies couldn't rally from 13 down for a second straight game and fell to postseason veteran Southern Illinois Salukis, 63-48 in a battle of the oddest nicknames in the tourney. Despite averaging over 72 PPG in the rugged ACC, Seth Greenberg's squad could only manage to average 50 in its two tourney games, and that is why he is headed back to Blacksburg to figure out how to replace top players Zabian Dowdell, Coleman Collins and Jamon Gordon. Good luck, Seth.

-The battle between storied programs Kansas & Kentucky didn't exactly pan out the way college hoop purists would have liked it to; the more talented & athletic Jayhawks crushed Tubby Smith's Wildcats- don't let the final fool you, UK was down by 17 with 2:00 to play-a loss that could put an end to Smith's career in Lexington as fans & boosters have been calling for his dismissal most of the season. Meanwhile the 'Hawks move on to face the Saluki's next week.

So there it is- the day in a nutshell. Although there wasn't much to cheer about as far as close games go, the end results did produce what should be some great match ups for the round of 16.

Here's a quick look at those games until I give a full preview sometime before Thursday rolls around.


  • 4 So. Illinois vs. 1 Kansas: SIU is a nice little story, but there is no way they knock off the rock chalks, is there?
  • 3Texas A&M vs. 2 Memphis: this one has the potential to be the game of the round
  • 3 Pitt vs. 2 UCLA: this one has a storyline that writers & analysts cream over- UCLA head coach Ben Howland used to be the main man at Pitt, and current Pitt boss Jamie Dixon was his protege; wonder if they'll play that up at all?
  • 5Tennessee vs. 1 Ohio State: the Vols play high-flying, spirited ball for Bruce Pearl, while the Buckeyes like to slow it down and run the offense through the big man, Greg Oden; which style will prevail?


  • 1Florida vs. 9Butler: the Kings of the Heap vs. the Party Crashers, David vs. Goliath, Spartans vs. Persians...
  • 6Vandy vs. 2 Georgetown: The Beasts of the East shouldn't have much of a problem with the Commodores, unless Lionel Richie continues his comeback on the hardwood
  • 7UNLV vs. 3Oregon: An old fashioned Wild West shootout, only with the defense these two teams play there won't be a hell of a lot of ammo flying around
  • 5USC vs. 1 Carolina: the Tarheels may be locked & loaded for another title run but these Trojans will cause a lot of protection problems for UNC (sorry, weak attempt at one there)

I think that's enough words for this post. It's gonna be tough to have no action to watch until Thursday, well unless you count the new season of Dancing with The Scantily Clad Celebs. Good thing I have the HD now to catch any potential wardrobe malfunctions this year!

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