This Week in Betting, A-Z
by Trevor Whenham - 3/22/2010
In honor of the outstanding first weekend of the greatest sporting event on the planet, this week's A to Z covers nothing but the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy:
A - Ali. There is no question what the enduring image of the first weekend of this year's tournament is going to be. Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh got the ball in three-point territory, briefly considered that he should pass because he had been ice cold all of the second half, couldn't resist the fact that he was wide open, and coolly hit they three pointer that stuck a dagger in the heart of Kansas. It may have been an unlikely win - one of the most unlikely ever - but you sure can't say that the Panthers were a fluke. They looked like they wanted that win from the start, and they outplayed the top ranked team in the country.
B - Butler. The Bulldogs are dreaming of the ultimate situation - playing in a Final Four at home. The dream is still alive, but it almost got derailed by a very tough Murray State team. The Bulldogs had controlled the tempo for much of the game, but they couldn't put the Racers down when it mattered. Ultimately, a couple of well timed free throws and a spectacular if slightly desperate defensive play were enough to pull out the tight win. The optimist would argue that it was good for them to be tested after they had cruised past UTEP.
C - Cornell. I believe in Big Red. For once, a heavily-hyped mid-major lived up to the expectations. Shattered them, really. The Ivy League champs humiliated two higher ranked and respected teams by starting fast, maintaining momentum throughout, hitting virtually every shot they made, and frustrating Temple and Wisconsin to death. In a tournament weekend full of amazing performances, nothing was more amazing than this.
D - Duke. I can't stand Duke, but I can't help but begrudgingly respect them. They made the Sweet 16 for the 11th time in 13 years, and they didn't have to break a sweat doig it. Of course, they shouldn't have had to break a sweat - they were given a laughably easy draw in the tournament, so there would have been a real reason for concern if they hadn't looked dominant so far.
E - Excellence. The Big Ten doesn't get a lot of respect compared to some of the other major conferences, but it quietly asserted its strength this weekend. They lead the way with three Sweet 16 teams, and with Purdue and Michigan State among them they are also tops for overcoming adversity. Minnesota was lousy, and Wisconsin was put in their place by Cornell, but seven wins in nine games is pretty darned impressive for a conference.
F - Failure. There are a few things it seems you can count on no matter what - death, taxes, and a disappointing first round loss by whatever team Oliver Purnell is coaching in the tournament. The Clemson coach has now brought three teams to tournament - Old Dominion, Dayton, and Clemson - and has yet to win a tournament game in six tries. Against Missouri they just couldn't match the speed and tempo, and weren't good enough.
G - Gonzaga. Gonzaga needs to deliver some results instead of living off their reputation. Since the run to the Elite Eight that made them who they are, they have just four Sweet 16 appearances in 11 years, and haven't advanced beyond that point. On Sunday they not only lost to Syracuse, but they didn't even look like they cared about what was happening. Freshman Elias Harris was spectacular, but his passion didn't rub off on his teammates, and Syracuse rolled.
H - Huskies. Washington got a lot of grief coming into the tournament as the champion of a conference that had had an incomprehensibly bad season. Given that, they certainly exceeded expectation in the first weekend of the tournament. They just snuck past Marquette, but then overwhelmed a New Mexico team that looked like they never even showed up for the game. Now they are a No. 11 in the Sweet Sixteen, though that's a bit misleading - I'm not sure a major conference tournament winner should ever be a No. 11 no matter how bad their conference is.
I - Injuries. Michigan State has made it through to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in 13 seasons - the second best record of success behind Duke over that period - but it has come at a big physical cost. Kalin Lucas went down against Maryland with an Achilles injury and will miss the rest of the tournament. Chris Allen is limited with a foot injury as well, and Delvin Roe is struggling with an already injured knee. Raymar Morgan is even playing with a broken tooth. This is one beat up team, which makes their heroic win over Maryland even more impressive.
J - Jimmer. BYU found themselves in a crazy, crazy first round game, but Jimmer Fredette and the boys found a way to get past Florida - even if it took them two overtime periods. It was an impressive, gutsy performance, but it obviously took too much out of them - two days later they were no match for Kansas State. That was part of a very frustrating weekend for the highly-touted Mountain West Conference. Only two of their four teams survived the first round, and both were pathetic in their second round losses.
K - Kansas. We've already talked about this game once, but we really can't talk about it too much. The more I think about the upset of the Jayhawks, the more stunning it is. They were the heavy favorites to win the tournament - 42 percent of the 4.8 million brackets filled out on ESPN.com had them winning it all, and 98 percent had them in the Sweet Sixteen. They should have been way, way too good to lose this early, never mind to a team that few had even heard of before the bracket was set.
L - Louisville. I'm surprised that the Cardinals were so bad in their first round game against California, and I am especially surprised that Rick Pitino didn't have a heart attack right on the court given how angry he got during his team's lousy performance. Louisville was being outplayed but were at least in the game until late, but then a 15-4 run by Cal to close it out capped the inevitable, and sent the Cards packing. It was a blow to the theory that the Big East was dominant this year and the Pac-10 was brutal.
M - Monarchs. Thursday was a big day for upsets, and it got going early when Old Dominion found their way past Notre Dame. The biggest story in the narrow one-point win was the way in which Old Dominion was able to totally and utterly shut down Irish star Luke Harandgody. He played as poorly as a player of his caliber can possibly play, and capped it all by making a brainless putback for two points in the dying seconds when his team was down by three.The luck didn't last for ODU, as Baylor got past them reasonably easily.
N - No more. There's no more streak of futility for Baylor. The Bears made the Final Four in 1950, but they hadn't won a tournament game in the 60 years since. They ended that frustration with a win over Sam Houston State on Thursday, then added another against ODU on Saturday for good measure. With Villanova out of the way they might not be done, either. It really is amazing how quickly the Bears have been able to fully rebound from the Dave Bliss mess in 2003.
O - Ohio. The tournament is always good for impossibly strange stories, and Ohio certainly fits that bill this year. They were just 7-9 in MAC play this year, and only made the Big Dance by winning the conference tournament as a No. 9 seed. They should have been totally outclassed as a 14 seed, but they never really gave Georgetown a chance and rolled to their first tournament win in 27 years. Lightning couldn't strike twice, though - Tennessee beat them as convincingly as they beat the Hoyas.
P - Purdue. If there was an award for courage the Boilermakers would take it. When they lost Robbie Hummel they went from a team that could win it all to one that that was prime for an upset. Despite that, they are through to the Sweet 16, and it's all because of heart. Their second round win over Texas A&M was a perfect example of how tough this team was. They didn't score in the last 4:30 of the game, and struggled to score all game, but they hung on tight with stout defense, made it to overtime, and came out on top. They'll be hard pressed to carry on further, but given what they have achieved this tournament is already a success.
Q - Quite perfect. If this tournament has already proven one thing it's that all of this talk about expanding the tournament to 96 teams is ridiculous - it's perfect just the way it is. It would be tempting to go for more of a good thing - like hitting the buffet one more time - but 32 new teams means 32 new games, and it's already hard enough to digest all of the drama and excitement and sheer volume of the games that already exist.
R - Racers. Murray State won only one game, but they earned a whole lot of fans in the process. It took a last-second shot to dispatch Vanderbilt by one point, but the No. 13 seed had earned the right to make that shot by playing a tough, relentless style of play. It was their second tournament win in 14 tries, and it marked the second straight time that Vanderbilt had been upset in the first round as a No. 4 seed.That's not something to be proud of.
S - Saint Mary's. There are lower seeded teams that win once and then show that they have reached the limits of their ability. The Gaels are not one of those teams. They looked extremely good in their first round win against Richmond, and then were even more impressive in getting past Villanova. They certainly weren't intimidated by Scottie Reynolds and company, they play with a unity that is notable, and they are cool under pressure. This is a team that doesn't have to be content with just two wins.
T - Tennessee. Bruce Pearl may be doing the top coaching job in the country right now. His team could have gone in the tank in January when star Tyler Smith was kicked off the team and others were suspended in an incident involving guns and drugs. Pearl kept them on task, though, and they are in their third Sweet 16 in four years. They have used the adversity as a motivator, and are playing like they aren't done yet.
U - Ugly. This is a tournament that the Big East will just want to pretend never happened. They came in with an embarrassing number of teams - eight - but have just two standing through the first weekend. Only one of their No. 2 seeds is still alive. Both No. 3 seeds are gone, and one didn't even win a game. Both No. 6 seeds were upset in the first round. Their No. 9 seed humiliated themselves. If it weren't for Syracuse and West Virginia this would have been a historic disaster for a conference that was clearly overrated.
V - Villanova. Wow. Coming into the tournament it was obvious that this team wasn't right - they had lost five of their seven games heading into the tournament. Still, no one could have expected them to look this bad. Scottie Reynolds was impossibly bad – 4-for-26 shooting in his two tournament games - and the rest of the team couldn't overcome his struggles. We'll likely never find out the whole story, but there was clearly things going on with this team that we never heard about.
W - Wildcats. Kentucky has a fantastic opportunity - Kansas was the only team that they probably couldn't have beaten if both squads were at their best. That means that the door is open for the Wildcats if they are composed enough to walk through it. Early returns are very positive - Kentucky not only won two games this weekend, but looked as impressive as possible in doing so. There are no easy games left - starting with the incredible Cornell, but if they keep playing like they have so far then they could and should be the last team standing.
X - Xavier. I couldn't be more proud of the mascots of our column. They made the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in seven years - a truly elite accomplishment - and they played well enough to keep winning if they can keep it up. This tournament is, among other things, going to be remembered as the coming out party for Jordan Crawford. The guy who was previously best known for slamming over LeBron James let people know how good he is by averaging 27.5 points per game and six assists.
Y - Yikes. This was not a kind weekend for brackets. With a No. 9, 10, 11, and 12 in the Sweet 16, the top overall seed and a No. 2 on the curb, three of four No. 3 teams out, and just one No. 4 standing, only eight of the 16 teams that should be in the Sweet 16 teams according to seeds are actually there. Add in 10 first round upsets and there is a whole lot of carnage out there. If you're feeling bad about your bracket, don't worry - even the President, with all the resources of the country behind him, couldn't avoid disaster.
Z - Zzzzz. Three of the four days of the opening weekend of the tournament were almost perfect - close games, surprising results, and outstanding individual performances. Unfortunately, Friday was a bit of a dud. 11 of the 16 games were won by eight points or more - often a whole lot more. The only real eye opening upset - Cornell over Temple - was a game that was never close or particularly interesting beyond the stunning dominance. It just wasn't a great day. Still, three out of four epic days is a more than acceptable rate of return.