by Robert Ferringo - 03/21/2006
Alright boys and girls, my head has finally stopped spinning from that four-day cornucopia of chaos and confusion that was the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. I've had time to survey the devastation, and here is an abridged version of my scattered thoughts concerning the events of the past 120 hours:
- The first game of the tournament set the tone for the entire four days. Boston College (-6.5) trailed Pacific by six points with less than three minutes left in the first overtime. Facing elimination, the Eagles broke off a 23-5 run to not only win and advance, but to easily cover the spread. Bizarre.
- Too much Billy Packer. Not enough Billy Rafferty.
- Too much Tubby Smith. Not enough Ashley Judd.
- Too much Doug Gottlieb. Not enough people trying to pummel Doug Gottlieb.
- Too much Brad Pitt. Not enough Angelina Jolie.
- This tournament featured the smallest margin of victory between the No. 1 and No. 16 seeds (14.5 points) in a decade. Back in 2001, the margin of victory in those 1-16 meetings was an incredible 39.5 points. In 2003 it was down to 24.5, and this year it was 14.5.
The increased parity didn't stop there. The margin of victory in the 3-14 games was a paltry 8.3 points. If you don't count UCLA's 34-point hammering of Belmont, just 6.3 points decided the other three 2-15 matchups. The aftermath was that double-digit favorites were a train wreck at 3-7 ATS through the first two rounds.
- One of the overlying themes of the opening weekend was the utter disappointment of the RPI's top-rated conference, the Big Ten. The meek Midwesterners were 3-6 SU, losing all six representatives before sunset on Sunday. Over the course of the five previous seasons, the Big 10 had the second best record (44-25) of any power conference in the Big Dance. I guess it goes to show that if teams can't win on the road in conference, they don't win on the road in the tournament.
The abject failure of the Big Ten is counterbalanced by the rousing success of the Missouri Valley Conference, which sent two teams to the Sweet 16 and finished 4-2 ATS.
The leagues I was most impressed with were the SEC and the Pac 10. The SEC rolled up a 7-4 ATS mark, and LSU and Florida are still playing. Meanwhile, the Pac-10 posted a profitable 5-2 ATS record and still has UCLA and Washington alive. Considering the recent flops of each of these conferences in the NCAA Tournament, this was a major reversal of fortune.
- When I said before the Big Ten Tournament that there was something strangely seductive and shady about Iowa - like a gorgeous, supple-breasted art student with razor marks up her arm - I wasn't kidding. They won the Big Ten tourney, and then backed that up with an ignominious first-round loss to Northwestern State.
- It was almost a joke. Check that. It was definitely a joke. During the first half of the UConn/Albany game my friends and I tossed out a handful of obligatory, sarcastic "Wouldn't it be funny…" and "Hey, they gotta chance" comments about the No. 16 Great Danes. But when Jamar Wilson hit a jumper with about 11:30 left in the second half, putting Albany up 10 over the Mighty Huskies, things got awfully serious at the bar booth that was our base camp.
Connecticut may bounce back to win the tournament, like they bounced back to beat Albany, but I think I'll be betting against them once they make the Final Four. Everything I said about them pre-tournament - questionable mental makeup, no clear-cut perimeter scorer to close games - bore itself out last weekend. And I don't think that a No. 1 seed should be cutting it that close in the first round. That's a huge red flag.
- On Monday on ESPN.com, Skip Bayless wrote an article that stated that Adam Morrison is actually not Larry Bird. Clever. Never heard that angle before. By the way, did you hear that Jerome Bettis was from Detroit? Or that there might be a steroid problem in baseball? Bayless = Bobblehead.
- Yes it's bizarre that either Wichita State or George Mason will be in the Elite Eight. But other than that, this actually hasn't been that extraordinary of a tournament. Of the remaining 16 teams, 12 of them are seeded No. 6 or higher. Ten of the top 16 seeds will still be playing when the regional semifinals tip-off on Thursday.
- The favorites were 34-12 straight-up but just 25-23 against the spread over the first two rounds. However, the top four seeds in each region combined for a meager 12-18 ATS run. That was bolstered by a 1-7 mark in the wild and wacky Washington, D.C. bracket.
- Patrick Sparks put up 28 points in a valiant, but losing effort against No. 1 Connecticut on Sunday. That defeat ended one of the most star-crossed careers in the history of Kentucky basketball.
- Speaking of capping a career, Gerry McNamara ended his illustrious stint at Syracuse not with a bang, but with a whimper. The kid who once hit six 3-pointers in the first half of the NCAA championship game as a freshman could only muster two points in a putrid first-round loss to Texas A&M as a senior.
However, G-Mac still mustered one of the greatest college careers of the last 30 years. Try a national title, two Big East Tournament titles, one Big East regular season championship, at least a half-dozen game-winning shots, a 43-point eruption in a first round NCAA tourney game against BYU, and the respect and admiration of the whole of Upstate New York. Oh, and his girlfriend is smoking hot.
"To ask a question of what his legacy is … if you don't know what it is, then you don't know anything."
- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a.k.a "The Mayor of Bracketville"
- Double-digit seeds are just 4-17 SU in regional semifinals (Sweet 16 games) over the last eight seasons. That doesn't bode well for Bradley, despite their incredible upset run up to this point.
- Syracuse, Iowa, and Kansas each won their conference tournaments and then each lost in the first round. Pundits - quick in their attempt to look witty and insightful - pointed out the "obvious" correlation. Well, how do you explain UCLA, Duke, and Florida? They each won their conference tournaments and looked outstanding over the weekend.
Maybe it was that the Orangemen, Hawkeyes and Jayhawks each were severely flawed teams that had given warning signs of their instability and combustibility all season long. Just a thought.
- Everyone knows about the dreaded 5-12 games in the first round. Every year those match-ups provide us with a pair of upsets in the first round. My question is, if it happens over and over again each tournament, when can we stop being "shocked" when a 12 beats a 5?
To me, the most underrated upsets that happen every year are the No. 2 seeds losing to the winner of the 7-10 games. In the last decade, not once have all four No. 2 seeds advanced through the first weekend. In fact, only twice in the last nine years have three No. 2 seeds made it through to the Sweet Sixteen. At least two get bounced just about every season.
Here's a little nugget for you though: the No. 2 seeds that have made it to the Sweet 16 over the past eight years are 11-5 SU in regional semifinal games. That bodes well for UCLA and Texas.
- Another clear trend in the first two rounds was the under, which finished 30-18. I actually expect that trend to continue, because the public can't help but expect these players to be better than they actually are.
- Damn you Chris Lofton! The Tennessee guard blew my upset special. I know a ton of people picked No. 15 seed Winthrop to top suspect No. 2 Tennessee. However, I called it over three months ago that the Eagles would beat whoever they played in the first round. I'll settle for an easy cover though.
- Most random moment of the weekend: it's approx. 8:30 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day. Some friends and I are cracking our fifth beer of the morning, listening to Skid Row wail to "18 and Life" in a free concert at a Downtown Atlanta bar. The host of a big-time local radio morning show is sitting at our table drinking with us, and he breaks down crying while talking about how he's leaving Atlanta to take some gig somewhere else. The guy acts like such a prick and a tough-guy on his show, but here his is bawling like a baby to four decreasingly-sober guys that he'd never met before that morning. Odd.
- I think one of the CBS producers had a crush on the wives of Alabama coach Mark Gottfried and UCLA coach Ben Howland. I swear, I must've seen like 12 shots apiece of them in the last four minutes of that game. After a while I though it was kind of creepy, but then I kept hoping they would get the shot from a higher angle so we could see … wait, delete that last part.
- The over/under on hot, straight chicks that I would find in the Women's NCAA Tournament in the first round was 6.5. It was a push. The over/under on repulsive, lesbianic she-males that could be observed in the NCAA Tournament in the first round was 112. Easily went over.
- I know most of you were preoccupied with the Madness this weekend, but here's a quick recap of current events outside the sports world:
1) Happy Belated Anniversary! The illegal occupation of Iraq is three years old. We celebrated a little prematurely by lighting up some Iraqi villages on Thursday with Operation Swarmer. Good times.
2) Congress has raised America's limit of debt to a whopping $9 trillion. Reportedly, Bill Frist had Iowa, Michigan State, Kansas and North Carolina in his Final Four. I'd like to think the two events were unrelated, but we will never be sure.
3) China's Ministry of Public Security banned "weird" baby names because the government's computer database is unable to handle rare Chinese characters. And you thought "i before e…" was complicated.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.