Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tourney Notes, Part One

Random thoughts one round into the 75th NCAA Basketball Tournament (some people might say we are two rounds in, but I do not count that absurd play-in which has come to be called the "First Four"):

The Surprises
Not counting Florida Gulf Coast's grande cojones throttling of Georgetown – which probably belongs in a category all its own – the first-round upsets that surprised me most were Ole Miss taking down Wisconsin and Temple taking down North Carolina State...And yes, you read that correctly. I found those outcomes more surprising than Wichita State over Pitt and Harvard over New Mexico and even LaSalle over Kansas State.

I expected Wisconsin be a giant-slayer in this tournament. Specifically, I expected them to eliminate top-seeded Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen, thus making it all the way to the Elite Eight before bowing out.

When it comes to NC State-Temple, most people will find it hard to see much of an upset taking place when a ninth-seed beats an eighth-seed. However, I considered the Wolfpack to be the biggest threat Indiana could face before the Elite Eight (sorry, Syracuse) and in my mind I believed they were good enough to come together and make a Cinderella run all the way to Atlanta.

About that Florida Gulf Coast Victory
It was the margin and completeness of their victory, much more than the simple fact of their victory, that made their already impressive showing even more impressive. The Eagles smacked Georgetown down with authority and outplayed them in every phase of the game, acting like they knew all along that they were going to prevail. And perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised, since they did beat Miami and hang close to Duke for a while en route to a 24-win season.

The Incomplete Analogy
Speaking of Miami, this year's basketball Canes remind me very much of the 1983 football Canes whose national title established that program as a national force no one could ignore.

Both teams were borne from programs whose very existence had sometimes rested on uncertain ground, for during the 1970's Miami seriously considered dropping its football program and actually did drop its basketball program (which was reinstated 15 seasons later)... Both teams were taken less seriously than they deserved by national power brokers…And both programs had produced only one nationally prominent figure prior to their respective championship runs. For pre-1983 football it was Ottis Anderson and for pre-current basketball it was Rick Barry.

Of course, we are just one round into the tournament and this basketball team has not won the national title like their football counterparts did. But having won both the regular season and conference tourney championships of the nation's most storied hoops conference - one which includes basketball bluebloods like Duke and UNC - these Canes will not be intimidated by the Louisvilles and Indianas of the world, just like the '83 football Canes were not intimidated by Nebraska.

Quality of Play
I am liking it. Most radio commentators and sportswriters seem to be upset by the low scoring, but based on the games I have watched, the low scores are primarily the result of legitimately stout defense, not poorly executed offense. For the most part, I have seen teams running true team-oriented offense with perpetual motion, smart passing, shrewd patience, and plenty of picks and rolls and backdoor cuts. Despite all the hand-wringing over low point totals, I am seeing three-pointers swish through the nets with impressive regularity. What I do not see much of is the kind of aimless and disorganized "drive to dunk and try nothing else" play that just a few years ago had me fearing "real" basketball had become a lost art.

Bring on Round Two!

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