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Titus’s 20 NCAA Tournament Observations

Thank you, Kentucky and Wichita State, for the greatest game in the history of ever. And thank you, basketball gods, for the first Trilly Five-Way in the history of ever.

Just when you think March can’t get any crazier, Stephen F. Austin makes history against UCLA.

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That, my friends, is the first recorded occurrence of the Trilly Five-Way. For those who don’t know, the Trilly Five-Way is the once-theoretical situation in which five players all record trillions at the same time. Until now, it had been nothing more than a dream. I’ve seen teams get close, but the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin are the only team I’ve ever seen pull it off. Screw the NCAA tournament — Stephen F. Austin is the biggest winner in college basketball this season and nothing can convince me otherwise.

But even though nothing could be better than a Trilly Five-Way, here are 20 other vital observations from the NCAA tournament’s first weekend.

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1. Defense alone doesn’t win championships.

Ohio State, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, Syracuse, VCU, and Kansas State are all defense-first teams that frequently struggled on offense this season. The six of them won two combined tournament games. Thanks to Xavier Thames going nuts on North Dakota State, San Diego State remains alive to carry the “our defense is 10 times better than our offense” standard. But given how badly the rest of that group played, I think it’s fair to suggest that “defense wins championships” should really be “defense wins championships … as long as you’re semi-competent offensively.”

2. Trevor Cooney was Syracuse’s MVP.

Cooney’s shooting percentages in Syracuse wins vs. Syracuse losses this season:

FG% in wins: 43%
FG% in losses: 24.5% (12-49)

3FG% in wins: 41.4%
3FG% in losses: 16.2% (6-37)

There are plenty of reasons why Syracuse collapsed after starting 25-0, but Cooney’s struggles should be near the top of that list.

3. Jay Wright has the best PR representation in college basketball.

Three days ago, I thought of Wright as the handsome, well-dressed coach who has won a ton of games at Villanova — a well-spoken, smart, solid guy. But when Villanova lost to UConn on Saturday night, I felt a tingle of déjà vu. I looked up Wright’s NCAA tournament record, and when I did I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Are you ready for this?

Wright is 13-11 all time in the NCAA tourney. When you think of well-known coaches who come up short in March, where does Wright rank on your list? He probably wouldn’t have even been on mine, but if you forced me to rank him, I’d have put him behind Rick Barnes, Jamie Dixon, Bo Ryan, Tom Crean, Bruce Weber, Scott Drew, Steve Alford, and Mark Few. Well, based on his tournament winning percentage of 54, Wright falls in the middle of that pack.1

How does Wright keep his rep intact? My theory is that he does it by appearing in commercials throughout the tourney and sitting at the CBS desk during the Final Four, so that we think of him as that bright, telegenic coach from Villanova, as opposed to that underachieving Slick Willie from Villanova.

4. Students at mid-major schools partying in the street after a big upset will never not be amazing.

And by “students partying in the street,” I refer specifically to Dayton, where the president of the university crowd-surfs with students.

5. Archie Miller is this year’s Andy Enfield.

Dayton’s run to the Sweet 16 isn’t half as shocking as Florida Gulf Coast’s two tourney wins last season. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that just about every year, a double-digit seed makes an improbable run and its coach gets catapulted into the national spotlight, where he’s heralded as the next great up-and-comer. Dayton has a much stronger program than Florida Gulf Coast had, so Miller might not leave for a bigger school like Enfield did. But it is a guarantee that Miller’s phone will be blowing up this summer with offers from all over the country.

6. Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, never have all four teams from a Final Four made the Sweet 16 the following year.

I have a thing for trivial statistics. I love semi-meaningless nuggets like this: Jim Boeheim has lost to every seed in the NCAA tournament except 10, 14, and 16. In the same spirit, I find it fascinating that at least one Final Four team has a tournament letdown the following season every single year. How is this possible? You’d think going to the Final Four would give teams the experience, confidence, and various other intangibles to succeed the following year. Or at least to survive the first weekend. But it doesn’t. This season seemed like a good bet to break the streak, since all four teams (Wichita State, Michigan, Syracuse, Louisville) were seeded fourth or better and were favored by a few possessions in their second-round games. And yet, we got only halfway there.

7. Not having a team to cheer for is pleasantly relaxing.

My alma mater was the very first team to lose in the field of 64. This will probably come across as depressed fan denial, but it has felt refreshing to watch the tournament with an unclenched butthole. I know this attitude reeks of fan privilege, and Northwestern fans would love to have the chance to get their hearts ripped out of their chests in that way only the NCAA tournament can, but I can’t control how I feel here. March Madness has taken years off my life, so I like to think I’ve earned this reprieve. Of course, I don’t want Ohio State to lose early every season, but I’m fine with taking a year off so I can watch the games without shouting at the TV, throwing things across the room, and drowning my sorrows in alcohol as Aaron Craft blows the— AARON CRAFT BLOWS THE END OF THE GAME AND AMIR WILLIAMS DOESN’T EVEN TRY AGAINST AN IN-STATE SCHOOL ARE YOU KIDDING ME WHAT THE HELL I HATE EVERYTHING.

8. Nobody in America is more fun to watch than Michigan.

It’s impossible for a Michigan game not to be entertaining, which is both good and bad for the Wolverines. On one hand, Michigan is so lethal from the 3-point line, it feels like someone hacked the settings of a video game and turned every Wolverine’s shooting up to 99. It’s almost comical to watch teams try to guard Michigan when it’s got it going from deep. On the other hand, Michigan hits so many 3s that it seems to think it can hit anything, and this leads to terrible shot selection. As good as Michigan is, no Wolverine lead is ever safe. In its last five games, Michigan blew a 13-point second-half lead against Illinois and a 12-point second-half lead against Ohio State, plus it let Texas cut an 18-point lead to six. This is the best of both worlds for neutral fans — they get to watch Michigan’s unstoppable offense, yet the outcome of these games is always in question.

9. Shabazz Napier isn’t Kemba Walker, but he might be close enough.

I’m convinced there’s a sect of UConn fans who constantly search for tweets containing the words “Shabazz” and “Kemba” just so they can rip anyone who suggests Napier and Walker are equals. I won’t go that far, but the parallels between Walker in 2011 and Napier in 2014 shouldn’t be ignored.2 If there’s such a thing as single-handedly winning a national title for your team, Walker did it in 2011. Meanwhile, Napier is a first-ballot Hero Ball Hall of Famer who does so much for UConn that when I picked the Huskies to win games in my bracket, I wrote “Shabazz” instead of “UConn.” In the Huskies’ first-round win over Saint Joseph’s, he scored nine of his 24 points in overtime. Saturday, he scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half against Villanova. Maybe Napier won’t be able to lead UConn to a national title like Walker did, but it’ll be fun to watch him try.

10. Brian Rohleder already has the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award locked up.

If you missed it, Rohleder is a Kansas State walk-on who received a technical for dunking in warm-ups before his team’s game against Kentucky. History will look back on this as the coolest trillion ever recorded. And yes, it’s still technically a trillion since he had one technical foul and no other stats, including minutes played. This means he very well could be the only person in the world to dunk and get a trillion in the same game. If I were Rohleder, I would never stop reminding people of this glorious achievement.

11. Greg Anthony plays by his own rules.

Following the Rohleder technical, Jim Nantz said, “Just when you thought you’ve heard of everything in basketball, I bet you hadn’t heard of this one.” Anthony replied, “I really hadn’t,” which is strange since I’ve known about this rule since middle school. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you could count on one hand the number of college basketball players who don’t know that techs are issued for dunking in warm-ups. The giveaway is watching everybody in the layup line go out of his way to throw the ball through the basket without touching the rim.

Maybe Anthony was playing dumb to point out the absurdity of the rule, so I’ll give him a pass on that one. But late in the same game, he made it clear that he has no idea what should and shouldn’t be called a backcourt violation,3 which left me wondering how the hell Anthony played 11 years in the NBA presumably without knowing the rules of basketball.

12. Kentucky–Wichita State was everything.

This could be a mild exaggeration, but let me go on record and say that the Kentucky–Wichita State game was the greatest thing of all time in the history of ever. If I had to pick a favorite part, I’d probably go with the stretch from the start of the game to the end of the game. Everyone who saw the court was the MVP, except Fred VanVleet. The first 10 picks of the NBA draft should be Jabari Parker and everyone who started in that game except VanVleet. There were a lot of great games in college basketball this season, and there are still probably a lot of great games to come. But right now, Kentucky–Wichita State is the best game of the season and there isn’t a close second.

13. Iowa State has broken the curse.

The referees got together to discuss a call at the end of an NCAA tournament game between Iowa State and North Carolina. Even with the benefit of replay and plenty of time to think about the decision, the call could have gone either way. And ultimately, as is the tradition, the call went against Iowwwhhhhaaat? The call went for Iowa State? Are we sure? Can we double-check with the refs? First they don’t call the carry they could’ve called on DeAndre Kane as he drove for the game winner, and then they decide the game is over because of a clock malfunction? Georges Niang’s broken foot must be the sacrifice that was needed to lift the Cyclone Curse.

14. Georges Niang is this year’s Kevin Ware.

I really thought Arizona’s Brandon Ashley was going to get the Ware treatment from CBS, but Niang’s broken foot has changed that. Ashley has a great case — his team is a 1-seed, it’s gunning for its first national title in more than 15 years, and he was a starter before he got hurt. Hell, the announcers already compared him to Ware in Arizona’s Sunday night win over Gonzaga. But Niang’s injury occurred during the tournament, which means it’s fresher in our minds and creates a bigger challenge for Iowa State than Ashley’s creates for Arizona, which has had time to figure out how to play without him. Whatever the case, Niang has emerged as the obvious Ware choice, so prepare to see his face a few hundred more times before the tournament ends.

15. CBS’s “cry cam” was one of the highlights of Sunday.

If you missed the end of the Stanford-Kansas game, you missed a little kid who is a Kansas fan crying his brains out on national TV. And then you missed CBS cutting back to him smiling as the Jayhawks made a comeback. And then you missed CBS cutting back to him yet again when the game ended and he looked like he was back on the verge of tears. This kid’s roller coaster of emotion was great to see because we all know he learned a valuable lesson: Don’t cry or you’ll be put on national television and ridiculed by everyone who knows you for the rest of your life. Hopefully, the Wichita State fan who cried after the Shockers lost to Kentucky also learned her lesson.

16. The legacies of Wichita State and Doug McDermott will be hard to nail down.

McDermott finished his career with 3,150 points, zero Sweet 16 appearances, and an average margin of defeat of 20 in his three second-round losses. Wichita State had zero losses in its first 35 games this season, but it also had zero Sweet 16 appearances. I’ve personally never cared much about ranking all-time teams/players or worrying about “legacies.” But these things matter to a lot of people, and it’s going to be impossible for the legacy arbiters to reach consensus on McDermott and 2014 Wichita State.

17. The SEC is asking America, “Who’s laughing now?”

And with three SEC teams in the Sweet 16, America begrudgingly sighs and replies, “You are, SEC. You are.”

18. The Sweet 16 games are going to be insane.

Louisville-Kentucky will dominate the headlines leading into Thursday, but all the matchups are must-see TV. Iowa State–UConn and Wisconsin-Baylor could each be a race to 90 points. Arizona–San Diego State was already a phenomenal game in November. Virginia–Michigan State will be a bloodbath. Michigan-Tennessee is a contrast of styles — big, physical, defensive Tennessee against the guard-centric, 3-point-shooting offensive machine that is Michigan. Florida-UCLA is a grudge match, as the Gators have bounced the Bruins in three of UCLA’s last six tournament trips: the 2006 national title game, the 2007 Final Four, and the 2011 second round. Stanford-Dayton is also a game that will be played. THE MADNESS IS FAR FROM OVER.

19. The billion-dollar bracket challenge will forever be impossible.

Unless somebody writes a code that automatically generates every bracket combination and files them all in various Internet contests, I’m convinced there will never again be a perfect bracket (assuming there’s ever been one before). Parity sinks its teeth deeper and deeper into college basketball with each passing year, and the tournament becomes more and more unpredictable. So shout-out to Warren Buffett and Dan Gilbert for dangling this impossible dream in front of America to obtain all our personal information. I look forward to consuming your spam for the rest of my life. I guess there’s a reason those guys are rich and I mooch a Netflix account off my cousin’s girlfriend’s parents.

20. It started with a whisper.

A group of guys are playing pickup basketball in a park. Alonzo Mourning approaches with a tin can in his hand that has a NAPA logo on it. He opens the can, releasing Patrick Warburton’s voice to inform the players about health insurance. One of the guys standing behind Mourning jokingly refers to him as “Chris Webber” and asks if he wants to try Subway’s new Flatizza. Mourning turns around, only he’s not Mourning anymore — he has transformed into Webber. The guy screams: “Chris Webber!” The rest of the players then recite lines from Queen’s “We Are the Champions” as an Audi driven by the Sonic guys approaches. Ricky Gervais rides in the backseat. He rolls down the window and bites his lip. Everyone in the park goes silent. They all stare at Gervais, who waits a beat. Finally, Gervais speaks: “We are the mighty Ospreys. Soar, soar, soar, soar, soar.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the commercial from hell.

Filed Under: College Basketball, NCAA tournament, kentucky wildcats, Wichita State, Arizona Wildcats, Florida Gators, 2014 NCAA Tournament

mark-titus-dont-put-me-in-coach

Mark Titus is the founder and author of the blog Club Trillion. His book, Don’t Put Me In, Coach, chronicles his career as a walk-on benchwarmer for the Ohio State basketball team and is on sale now.

Archive @ clubtrillion

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