It’s my favorite tournament in any sport. I’ll take it over anything and everything and I won’t hesitate to defend it. The NCAA basketball tournament reigns supreme and while it has its off years, it never disappoints.
Here are just a few of the moments that stood out for me:
- The “First Four”…I’m begging the NCAA to stop this nonsense. Not necessarily the games itself, but pretending that these games are just as important as when the field hits 64 teams. It is impossible to argue that the two games played on Tuesday night in Dayton were surprisingly awesome. Western Kentucky overcame a 16 point deficit with just 5 minutes to go. BYU trailed Iona by 25 points and rallied to win.
While these two games can be considered a couple of the best that the tournament had to offer, they still aren’t real games in the eyes of many. For the committee to do this right, I think you really need to have ALL the teams who play Tuesday/Wednesday to be the final 8 at-large teams. It’s still not fair to conference champions to play extra games. Make the 8 at-large teams all 16 seeds and let the winners play UNC, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Syracuse. Seeding is overrated anyway…that’s why so many good seeded teams go down.
- UNC-Ashville vs. Syracuse. The officiating was absolutely brutal in this game. If not for the referees, I really believe we would have seen the first #1 seed lose in the round of 64. UNC-A’s J.P. Primm was called for a huge lane violation, which was questionable at best. It occurred on a crucial free throw attempt for Syracuse which resulted in two additional shots being made.
With just 35 seconds left, Syracuse was inbounding the ball up 3. Syracuse’s Brandon Triche misplayed the ball and it clearly went out of bounds off him. Officials signaled otherwise. Whether or not a foul should have been called is irrelevant, the ball went off Triche and that was obvious.
- VCU over Wichita State. If you didn’t see this coming, you are not paying attention. VCU’s head coach Shaka Smart became a household name at the NCAA tournament last year. He took his Rams to the Final Four and showed no sign of stopping in their first game this year. Expect Smart to get a more recognizable coaching job in the near future.
- 15 seeds. My favorite moment in NCAA Tournament history is when 15th seeded Hampton shocked Iowa State in 2001. I’ve never seen such genuine joy from a coach than what I saw in Steve Merfeld. After Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley missed a shot with 1.2 seconds on the clock, Hampton’s David Johnson carried Merfeld across the court. Merfeld was pumping his fists and kicking while being held. It was such a cool moment.
Friday saw the first 15 seed to win since that moment. Norfolk State seemingly matched Missouri bucket for bucket as the game progressed. They wouldn’t go away and they ultimately defeated the 2 seed Missouri 86-84.
Fast forward just a couple hours and Lehigh, also a 15 seed, would shoot down the almighty Duke Blue Devils. It was unreal and almost unfathomable. The parity of college basketball is improving every year and it is great to see.
- Indiana defeats VCU. The round of 32 saw my favorite team, the Indiana Hoosiers against Smart’s VCU Rams. VCU controlled a good portion of the game but Indiana was resilient late in the game.
Will Sheehey’s shot with 12 seconds left had me jumping for joy and was a 2nd reminder that IU basketball is back. The first of course, was the Kentucky game at Assembly Hall…….rematch on Friday by the way!
- St. Louis and Purdue’s almosts. These teams almost pulled off major upsets but came up just short. Purdue had a chance to put Kansas away but still pulled off a valiant effort. St. Louis meanwhile hung with Michigan State to the very end, but to no avail.
With 16 teams remaining, it will be interesting to see what develops now. Obviously everyone will be talking about the Kentucky/IU rematch, but how far can teams like Florida, Xavier, Ohio, and NC State really go?