Most people associate March Madness with conference tournaments that start in a little over a week and the NCAA tournament. But Saturday was the first day of March, and the madness really starts from day one of the month.
There were some great college basketball games and storylines from the first weekend in March to get the best month of basketball started with a bang.
Top 25 games decided by 6 points or less – 7 out of 21 games
Games & upsets that impact tournament positioning
- #5 Texas falls to Texas Tech by 3 in the most exciting finish on Saturday. The loss for Texas effectively killed their hopes of being a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
- #14 Vandy slips up against Arkansas by 5. The Chris Webber Timeout blunder rears its ugly head for another player in a pressured-filled end-game situation. Forward Ross Neltner called a timeout the Commodores didn’t have with 7.3 seconds remaining, and Vandy only down one. A technical foul was assessed and the miscue helped Arkansas hold on for a 78-73 victory. I thought Vanderbilt was a “smart” school? Either way Arkansas gains a strong win that will likely improve their seed in the tourney. In the loss Vandy’s Shan Foster became the all-time leading scorer in school history. I have targeted him as a 2nd round draft pick the Sixers should look to go after to address their lack of 3-point shooting after trading Korver. He has NBA range and NBA size. This time we would need to keep the Vandy player we get and not pull another Derrick Byars who I loved in college.
- #10 Georgetown sneaks by (again) #21 Marquette 70-68 in a classic Big East battle that was decided in overtime. The Hoyas and Jonathan Wallace benefited not from another horrendous call by the officials like the Villanova debacle but terrible defensive decision-making on the part of Dominick James. Down three, Wallace brought the ball down the sideline all the way to the deep corner and prepared to hoist a desperation three to tie the game, and James thought it was a good idea to reach for the ball on the shot attempt, DUMB. Another example why the team up by 3 should foul early and not give the other team a chance to even shoot a three or have something like a foul called on a contested three-point attempt. This was the philosophy of my college coach, and I am not sure why more coaches don’t adopt this strategy. James fouled Wallace who calmly nailed all three free throws with 2.8 seconds left. Marquette couldn’t recover in OT and missed a golden opportunity for a big conference victory.
- #24 Kent State goes down to sub .500 Bowling Green. Kent State worked its way into the Top 25 for the first time in school history by winning 9 of their last 10 games. This loss just goes to show how tough it is to win on the road in conference play, regardless if it’s a major conference like the SEC or a mid-major like the MAC.
Big-Time close calls by the ACC powerhouses
Coach K’s 800th win came in the form of a nail-biting, potential upset at the hands of N.C. State. Sidney Lowe’s squad dominated Duke for about 33 minutes and had an 8-point lead with 5:03 left (81-63). At this point I thought N.C. State needed to keep scoring and get at least 87 points not to lose the game in regulation. Duke proceeded to go on a 14-5 run to end the game. Final score – 87-86 in favor of Duke, and I felt like a prophet.
UNC overcame an 18-point deficit early in the second half and a truly remarkable individual performance from Tyrese Rice to stay at the top of the ACC with the Blue Devils. Rice scored 34 points in the first half breaking his previous career high of 32. He finished with 46 for the game, the 3rd highest mark hung on UNC ever and the 2nd most points scored by a Boston College player in school history. UNC went on a 22-3 run over the next 8 minutes and 7 seconds to take a 62-61 lead, proving they can score points fast and in bunches. At that point Roy William’s team had the game in full control. With Tennessee losing 24-hours after being ranked number 1, the Tar Heels are in position to be the #1 ranked team in the country Monday. They also remain as one of the 4 top seeds in most people’s tournament bracket. The stage is set for the best game of the season next Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Missed opportunities and bubbles bursting – Every year there are teams barely in the tournament, on the bubble or outside the bubble looking in. They will all have some opportunities down the stretch against ranked opponents and conference-leading teams to help their cause in the eyes of the selection committee. Here are some teams that blew a chance to solidify their spot in the tournament the first two days of March.
- Villanova – I said in a previous post Nova needed a key victory against either Marquette or Louisville this week. My feeling was the Marquette game at the Wachovia Center on Monday was the more favorable game for the Wildcats to win, and they couldn’t get it done. Today Louisville out worked Nova on the boards, their full court pressure fatigued Nova’s shooters and the Cardinals simply had more talent so the game was never really close. Now Nova will have to win their last two regular games against South Florida and Providence just to stay on the bubble. Then I think they must win at least two Big East Tournament games to be considered for an at-large bid.
- Saint Joseph’s – In a must win game against Big Five-rival Temple, the Hawks lost by one at the Palestra, likely falling completely off the bubble, and are now on the outside looking in. Luckily for them they still have Xavier at home on Thursday, and a win could put them back in contention. Then they have the conference tournament in which they will need to, at worst, make it to the championship game to be considered for an at-large bid. They control their own destiny if they can run the table and win it all. Joe Lunardi currently has two A-10 teams in the tournament (Xavier and Umass) with the Hawks in consideration. Temple is the only team to beat Xavier in conference; they have beaten Umass and Saint Joe’s. If Temple wins their last two against Duquesne and La Salle, I think Temple throws themselves in the mix as well with a strong A-10 tournament run.
- Arizona – Even with a mediocre record of 17-12 and only 7-9 in conference, Zona is probably in on the strength of their out-of-conference schedule and the strength of the Pac-10. A win today against UCLA would have been the clincher. They ended up losing by two but showed they have top flight talent and can compete with the best in the country. But they can’t keep losing just because they are playing tough competition.
- Kentucky – Sweeping the season series against #1 Tennessee would have been a huge win for Kentucky, but they simply ran out of gas late. With a 16-11 overall record and a strong 10-4 in conference the question remains: will key wins at home against Vandy and Tenn be enough to get them in? Right now I think not. And with Patrick Patterson done for the remainder of the season things look real bleak for the Wildcats from Kentucky.
- Kansas State – Michael Beasley found out quickly that talk is cheap, especially in team sports. The 14-point loss to Kansas marks K State’s fourth loss in a row, meaning their bubble is on the verge of bursting right now.
- Syracuse – Why is this team always on the bubble even though they consistently bring in very talented recruits? The Big East is tough but the Cuse clearly has enough talent to do better than they have. The loss to Pitt means they must run through the Big East tournament to get in. And if they don’t win right now chances are they won’t win next season either if Donte Greene declares for the NBA after his freshman year.
- Ohio State – 14-point loss to Minnesota = NIT for OSU
BONUS Madness: The Sixers beat Phoenix on the road – Looking at the schedule I am pretty sure most of us marked this down as a loss. To my surprise, after getting home from seeing Vantage Point Saturday night, I find out the Sixers overachieved again. Granted the Suns are still trying to figure it out after they traded for the Daddy, but that takes nothing away from this hard-fought win. Andre Miller (25 pts, 12 ast, 3 stls, and only 2 turns) attacked Phoenix’s major weakness – Steve Nash’s defense. Ultimately that is why the Suns probably have no chance in the West, not Shaq. Having to go up against one or more of the best PGs in the game in Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Baron Davis, and now Jason Kidd makes Nash’s liability on defense even more apparent. If Miller can go off on him what will those studs do come playoff time?
Biggest takeaways from that game are Maurice Cheeks’s ability to motivate and get these guys to play extremely hard on the second game of a back-to-back. They are 11-1 in the second game of their last 12 back-to-back situations. This is huge to me and shows why Mo deserved that extension. The other, Andre Iguodala showed he can step up and take over a game in stretches against a good team. The Sixers will need much more of that down the stretch. And if he can consistently play that way come playoff time, maybe he can make a believer out me that his deserves a max contract. Not yet though.
LOVE MARCH! The best basketball and my birthday, what more can I ask for.
Filed under: College Basketball, March Madness, Sixers, UNC | Tagged: Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Arizona, College Basketball, Dannie, Duke, Kansas State, March Madness, Maurice Cheeks, Ohio State, Saint Joseph's, Sixers, Syracuse, Temple, Tyrese Rice, UNC, Villanova | 4 Comments »