Friday, March 28, 2014

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - Sweet 16, Day 1

Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch two games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Arizona vs San Diego State. Heading into the Sweet 16, SDSU was my sleeper pick for a Final Four run.  This is a fine defensive team who I felt could give Zona some problems.  In the first half, that fact was clear.  The Aztecs owned the Wildcats for the first 17 minutes or so.  But when Arizona got to stretch its legs and San Diego State went on a predictably cold offensive stretch, Zona showed why they can win a title.  Nick Johnson had an outstanding final three minutes.

UPSET OF THE DAY: Dayton over Stanford. This was technically the only true upset, though Dayton is an 11th seed that beat Stanford, a 10th seed.  Still, a month ago who had Dayton in the Elite 8?  The Flyers got out in front of Stanford and impressively held off every attempt for a Cardinal comeback.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: Atlantic 10. Four separate conferences won a game on Thursday.  Florida, Arizona and Wisconsin expected to be here.  The A-10's Dayton Flyers did not.  When placed against the backdrop of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski claiming two weeks ago that the ACC should get more teams in than the A-10 makes it all the more sweet.  Or should I say, elite?

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: Pac 12. Arizona did get into the Elite 8, but Stanford and UCLA fell short.  Both had a legit chance to advance but just couldn't stay close to their opponents.  The Pac-12 had three teams in the Sweet 16 just like the Big Ten and SEC.  The other two still have their three remaining.

DUD OF THE DAY: Wisconsin vs Baylor. In my "second chance bracket", I had Baylor upsetting Wisconsin.  I think Wisconsin is a title team, but I just liked Baylor's mix of size and athleticism.  Either way, I expected this to be the best game of the night.  And it was the worst game of the night.  Wisky jumped all over the Bears and Baylor just never was in the game.  

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: Wisconsin. Of the three big dogs that played on Thursday, Wisconsin had that championship dominance.  Not only did Wisconsin dare Baylor to hit from the outside and win that battle, their offense just cut up the Bears' zone.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: Big dogs. I always look at the NCAA tournament as it truly is ... three separate weekend tournaments.  You win one tournament, you move on to the next one.  The first weekend is about survival.  Next weekend is about winning a championship.  This weekend is about how the big dogs handle being a big dog.  This weekend is about both accomplishment and promise.  You are proud and excited for winning your two first tournament games (or three, in Tennessee's case) but you also have that taste of a Final Four or maybe a title.  It's right there.

But these games usually pit many of the teams that have that feeling of a championship.  When the brackets were announced, Florida, Arizona, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa State and Louisville all felt like they should be able to win the championship.  Before the season started, Kentucky was the frontrunner for the title.  UConn has a championship pedigree.  So does UCLA.  I always love this round just because it is usually the best basketball of the tournament ... even if it doesn't have the sexiness of a Cinderella story.  Many years, we still get that story.


*Ohio, Texas and North Carolina started with four schools in the tournament.  Ohio (Dayton) is the only one that still stands.

*Conference Count:
3-Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin)
3-SEC (Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee)
2-American (Louisville, UConn)
1-Pac 12 (Arizona)
1-Big 12 (Iowa State)
1-ACC (Virginia
1-Atlantic 10 (Dayton)

*Overtime count is still at SIX.  The record is seven in 1995 and 1997.

*In this second weekend of games, there are some interesting venue items to think of.  One, is the fact that Madison Square Garden is hosting a regional final.  Awesome.  The second is that UConn will be playing in it as the worst seed left in the East Region.  Will that atmosphere be too much for the other schools?  I don't think Michigan State will have a problem, but will relative newbies Virginia and Iowa State buckle?

We also had Arizona play San Diego State in Anaheim.  Love that atmosphere.  Tonight, we get Louisville vs Kentucky in Indianapolis.  Wow!  That crowd should be live!  Michigan fans, who will see their team face Tennessee in the early game in Indy, should be well represented.

The only odd one is Memphis.  Really, no team can call that an easy road trip ... with two California teams making up half that bracket.

*Dayton is trying to be the first Atlantic 10 team to reach the Final Four since UMass in 1996.  VCU, now an Atlantic 10 school, made the 2011 Final Four as a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference.  Technically, UMass's appearance has been vacated.

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