Column: Observations from the Tournament's opening weekend
Jotting down 68 observations from the Big Dance's opening weekend did cross my mind more than once, but based on how much detail I dedicated to each thought, publishing a book may have been an easier task. In lieu of the Sweet 16, I settled for 16 observations instead. I know it's tough, but try to survive these next three days of no hoops. After all, there's always the NIT to check out-or the women's NCAA's.
1. Kansas State walk-on Brian Rohleder should be very fortunate that his coach is Bruce Weber and not Frank Martin. Rohleder, a sophomore who has scored 2 career buckets, cost his team a 1-0 deficit against Kentucky before tip by throwing one down in warm-ups. Weber, a mild-mannered coach, won't punish Rohleder too much. If Martin were still patrolling KSU's sidelines, however, Rohleder's whereabouts might soon have been as mysterious as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
2. I've always had a thing for female sideline analysts. I believe my first love in life was Erin Andrews, and I'm currently head-over-heels for Kaylee Hartung (works for ESPN's Longhorn Network). Still, the biggest Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament to date isn't Mercer, Stephen F. Austin, or North Dakota State. It's Allie LaForce, CBS Sports' 25-year-old smoke-show. Google her, than thank me after.
3. Kansas fans will use Joel Embiid's back as an excuse for why they didn't get to Dallas this year. In reality though, they should look no further than their once-refined backcourt that failed to show up in the Big Dance. In Second Round versus Eastern Kentucky, KU didn't make a single "3." In its loss to Stanford on Sunday, the trio of Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden Jr. and Naadir Tharpe combined for just 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting.
4. To quote Dennis Green, this is how I feel about Cincinnati: "They are who we thought they were!" Stout defense, but couldn't score at a bunny ranch. Mick Cronin is now 3-6 in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Steve Masiello will be a household name in five years. Manhattan's coach had a three-point lead with less than four minutes left on mentor Rick Pitino, as the Jaspers totally had the defending champs on the ropes. Louisville eventually won, but Masiello's name has already been linked to the South Florida head coaching vacancy.
6. Speaking of Manhattan-Louisville, Luke Hancock scored eight points in an 86-second span to put the game on ice. Remember, Hancock was last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player. (There's a great trivia question for your friends.) He has the most effective pump-fake in college basketball, and pretty soon Louisville may want to consider putting up a statue of Hancock outside the KFC Yum! Center for his annual March heroics.
7. Stephen F. Austin, and the "F" is for... exactly what, Lil' Wayne? For the Lumberjacks, the "F" is for "four-point play." Trailing by four with under five seconds left on the ticker, SFA's Desmond Haymond nailed a triple from the right wing while simultaneously getting fouled by VCU's JeQuan Lewis. Haymond proceeded to sink the free throw, and Stephen F. Austin prevailed in overtime. Oh, March.
8. NC State put on its best Tony Romo impression on Thursday night by choking away the big one. The Wolfpack led by 14 with 5:00 on the clock before losing in OT. Tyler Lewis' seven turnovers definitely didn't help the cause.
9. The saddest moment of the NCAA Tournament to me thus far came in the form of a Johnathan Loyd postgame presser. Loyd, Oregon's starting point guard, blamed himself for not grabbing a late rebound before quickly dropping his head to the floor for what I assumed to be a waterworks display. I love Loyd, I love Oregon and it was hard not to break down a bit myself upon seeing that. Head up, kid.
10. Cutest moment of the NCAA Tournament (besides Allie LaForce, of course): Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli's grandson, who mimics his grandpa's every move on the sidelines. Heck, he even has his own clipboard already! Talk about a coach-in-waiting.
11. The Harrison twins were flat out awesome Sunday in Kentucky's "upset" victory over previously undefeated Wichita State to propel the 'Cats to the Sweet 16. Andrew and Aaron went for 39 points, finally looking like the duo that was projected to easily go Top-10 in the NBA Draft. Now, they get set to do battle against Hancock and Russ Smith.
12. This sport is so much better now that Marcus Smart is gone from it. Smart came back for his sophomore campaign to reach the Final Four. Instead, he flopped, conversed with refs, pushed a Texas Tech fan, got suspended three games and flopped some more. He still can't shoot, and he'll most likely head for the pros without a single NCAA Tournament win on his resume.
13. A final tip of the hat to Doug McDermott, whose marvelous collegiate journey came to a screeching halt Sunday evening in a blowout loss to Baylor. McDermott tallied a pedestrian 15 points (his lowest total since Jan. 25) and broke a streak of 16 straight games with a made 3-pointer (He knocked down 96 threes on the year). I sincerely hope you enjoyed every last V-cut and one-foot fade-away jumper of Douggie McBuckets, because we might not see someone as gifted scoring-wise for another 10 years or so. I told everyone before tip: Baylor was a real, real bad matchup for Creighton. The Bears possess a plethora of athletes (just like St. John's and San Diego State, two teams that beat Creighton this season) and use those athletes to form a daunting zone defense. (I was in the Garden when Providence's 2-3 gave Creighton absolute fits in the Big East Championship.) It's as simple as that.
14. Let's not leave the West Region just yet. I still can't get over BYU getting an NCAA Tournament bid, while Southern Methodist is stuck in the NIT. I understand that BYU challenged themselves out-of-conference (won at Stanford and vs. Texas; lost to Iowa State, Wichita State, Oregon, and UMass) while SMU lost at Arkansas and at UVA, but the eye test has to be a bigger factor in determining who is in and who is out of the Big Dance. Besides, BYU already played Oregon this year; where's the fun in that? I'm not saying Larry Brown's boys would have beaten the red-hot Ducks, but they would've put up a better fight than the Cougars.
15. Tyler Ennis's final shot versus Dayton-the 3-pointer on which he got a great look on-is acceptable in my opinion. But him taking that 16-foot jumper on the possession before, this after making a living on lay-ups to the point that he was more comfortable around the rim than salt on a margarita? The shot selection would've made me puke, except for the fact that it was Syracuse who lost. Outside shooting was far from the Orange's calling card in 2013-14, which is why Ennis should have stuck with his bread-and-butter and gotten into the lane instead.
16. Florida is the top overall seed, and they stymied Pittsburgh's bipolar offense on Saturday, but does that automatically make the senior-laden Gators the tournament favorite? No, it does not. Michigan State-Florida would be an instant classic, and I'd take the Spartans in that one. But the school I really have my eye on is Arizona. They've been one of my Final Four plugs since I saw them handle Duke at the Garden in November, and I picked them in all but one of my brackets to cut down the nets in Dallas in two weeks. Arizona has tremendous balance, and unlike Florida they also have surefire NBA difference makers in guys like Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and even Nick Johnson. The 'Cats are a joy to watch on defense, with T.J. McConnell (the West Coast version of Aaron Craft) Johnson and Gordon leading the way. Rarely, and I mean rarely, does the opponent's best player not have a nightmare evening when facing Zona. Plus, they actually hit seven 3s versus Gonzaga on Sunday! Arizona is the favorite to win the whole thing.
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