The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over, but now is the time to look back on the greatest (and not so great) moments of the third round of action.
In a tournament with so much parody and unexpected excitement, it is really difficult to narrow the good down to just a few points. On the flip side, it was equally as difficult to find three not so great things.
Double-Digits Keep Rolling
We’ve got a 12, 13 and 15 seed in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Conferences represented by those seeds? The Atlantic Sun, Atlantic 10 and Pac-12.
Clearly, the 2013 NCAA Tournament has been one marked by a plethora of upsets (Wichita State over Gonzaga, anyone?), but it’s perhaps just as interesting to look at what could have been. Marquette barely survived No. 14 seed Davidson in the second round, Harvard upset potential darling New Mexico in the same round, and St. Mary’s was just a three pointer away from sending Josh Pastner’s No. 6 seeded Memphis team away empty handed once again.
In other words, no higher seeded team is safe this year. While some may attribute this to the fact that many smaller schools are beginning to attract solid talent (which is no doubt the case), this year’s explanation may be that there are simply no great teams in college basketball. Is that a bad thing?
Well, it depends on who you ask. Some analysts think so, but I’m of the opinion that the parody is great for college basketball. Who really wants to be completely correct with their brackets by going chalk? Are you really going to tell me that you won’t watch the Final Four if Kansas or Indiana doesn’t make it Atlanta?
Give me a break. We all know that the public can collectively sympathize with the underdog, and many fans even see a bit of themselves in the “little engine that could”. Put simply, I wouldn’t trade what’s happened thus far for any amount of bracket pool prize money. This has been the most exciting tournament that I’ve witnessed in my conscious lifetime.
Perhaps I’m disappointed with the amount of touch fouls that have been called because I am used to the rough-and-tough play that marks the Big Ten regular season. But I think that most people would agree that there have been a lot of unnecessary stoppages during games in this year’s tournament.
It’s one thing when someone is clearly hacked going to the basket or when a player is knocked the other way when dribbling down the court. But when a player is called for a foul for simply going after a loose ball the same way a player on the opposing team does, we’ve taken the rules too far.
Let the kids play. I am hopeful that this will become the case once the Sweet 16 begins, as many of the teams come from power conferences where physical play is the norm and players are less likely to look for the cheap foul. Fans want to see great shots and moves to the basket, not both teams being in the double bonus nine minutes into the half.
The Eagles Soar
Every year there is a team, normally from a small conference, that fans begin to pull for even at the expense of their own bracket.
This year, that team is the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
The Eagles are not your typical Cinderella squad, however. Andy Enfield’s team are as loose as they come, throwing down monster alley oop jams at crucial junctures in the game, essentially turning a cold shoulder to the notion that you protect a lead when there is the potential to upset a top seed.
They are athletic. They are fun. They are fearless. They are respectful. And as crazy as it seems, they have a chance to go even further than the Sweet 16.
Don’t blink, because teams like the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles don’t come around often (in fact, they are the first of their kind, becoming the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16). But also remember that, as they are making history right in front of us, they’re the epitome of a team enjoying its first ever trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.
It’s wonderful, incredible and what the Big Dance is all about.
Doug Gottlieb Commentating
The country may be finding out why current CBS Sports analyst and color commentator Doug Gottlieb rarely did games while working at ESPN.
Despite being a knowledgeable personality (he played basketball at Oklahoma State from 1997-2000 and led the nation in assists during his sophomore year at Stillwater), his analysis is significantly clouded by the fact that he almost always has something negative to say. These comments are almost always offered in a whiny, nasally tone that essentially sounds like he is complaining for the sake of complaining.
Guys like Clark Kellogg are respected for the fact that, while they do sometimes call out players for doing something wrong, they also attempt to point out instances in which a player or team does something very well on the court. Gottlieb is very good at pointing out things players do wrong, but rarely ever compliments good plays.
Here’s another tip, Doug: Being an outright homer is okay when you’re Dick Vitale or Lou Holtz’s age, but not at your age. No one is going to argue with you that Oregon deserved much higher than a No. 12 seed, but the committee wasn’t trying to take it out on Oklahoma State by matching up the Cowboys with the Ducks.
Gottlieb isn’t Charles Barkley by any stretch, but CBS may want to reconsider whether he should be doing work for the company outside of the studio.
The Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten did not disappoint, proving to the country (at least to this point) why they were regarded as the strongest conference in the nation all season.
Four teams from the conference (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State) made it through to the Sweet 16, and two other teams (Minnesota and Illinois) had a shot as well.
The conference faces some pretty tough matchups later this week, including Michigan taking on top seeded Kansas and Ohio State facing a surging Arizona squad, but is in as good a position as any conference to have multiple representatives in Atlanta.
In fact, the Big Ten could pull off the incredible feat of shutting out all other conferences to the Final Four, as there is a Big Ten team left in each of the four regions.
It’s improbable, but not impossible.
Mountain West Woes Continue
I covered the Mountain West in the Round of 64 recap, but the conference was simply too disappointing to leave out of the Round of 32 discussion.
The nation’s number one league in terms of conference RPI failed to send a single team to the second weekend of the tournament, signaling that the metric may not be nearly as strong an indicator of performance as once thought. The conference’s top teams went down unexpectedly in the second round, and the two teams left (Colorado State and San Diego State) were outplayed in their third round battles.
Frankly, it was a sad end for a conference that had so many expectations heading into the Big Dance.
One may see this performance as taking a step back for the conference, and to some extent they may be right. Next year’s selection committee could have a skewed opinion of the conference based on the way it performed in 2013, and that could affect who gets at large bids. At the same time, the conference could be severely watered down next season, as star players such as San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin will have to decide whether to stick around for his senior season or opt for the NBA draft a year early.
- K. Becks