Grantland logo

Twenty Vital Observations About the NCAA Tournament’s First Weekend

From Lehigh upsetting Duke to the end of the Robbie Hummel era at Purdue, and much, much more.

Lehigh

1. Missouri and Duke making history for the wrong reason

Since everything that can be said has already been said about Missouri and Duke losing to 15-seeds within a few hours of each other, I’d like to direct your attention to a prediction that a certain someone made last week about the 1- or 2-seeds that were most likely to get upset early.

(And no, I don’t think it’s relevant to mention that I picked Missouri to go to the Final Four after the bracket was announced.)

2. Draymond Green’s second career NCAA tournament triple-double

On Sunday afternoon, CBS gave Green the love he deserved for recording his second career NCAA tournament triple-double against LIU two days earlier, but it seems like fans and the media as a whole haven’t given this accomplishment its proper respect. I’m guessing this is because people are less impressed because Green did it against a 16-seed, but that shouldn’t matter. The bottom line is that there have been hundreds of guys who played against 16-seeds, yet only Green, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson have multiple triple-doubles in the tournament. Anytime you’re in an exclusive group with Magic and the Big O, you’ve accomplished something.

3. Jae Crowder is the emerging star of the tournament

It’s not very often that the Big East player of the year flies under the radar in the discussion of the country’s best players, but that has happened all year long with Crowder. I’m not sure how much longer it will last, though, because against Murray State on Saturday Crowder showed that he is the most versatile player in the country and that he can carry a team to the Final Four. As excited as I am to see Florida and Marquette race to 100 points on Thursday, I think I’m more excited about a possible Crowder-Draymond Green matchup in the Elite Eight, because both of those guys do more for their teams than any other player left in the tournament.

4. Syracuse looking good after a scare

Syracuse needed a combination of luck, incompetent refs, and a few big plays to escape a historic loss to UNC-Asheville in their first tournament game, and many people put the Fab Melo-less Orange on upset alert in their next game against Kansas State. But ‘Cuse sent a message to the rest of the field that even without Melo, they won’t be an easy out.

5. Redemption for Louisville and Wisconsin

Big things were expected from Louisville and Wisconsin this season, but in late December and early January both had stretches that made it easy to wonder why their preseason rankings were so high. Losing over the weekend wouldn’t have necessarily made their respective seasons failures, because both the Cardinals and Buzzcuts won a lot of games, but Sweet 16 berths give them something extra to validate the lofty expectations placed on them in November.

6. Redemption for Jordan Taylor

Taylor’s individual season mirrored his team’s season. As a first team preseason All-American who averaged 18 points per game a season ago, the bar was set very high for Taylor this year. And like the Buzzcuts as a whole, Taylor wasn’t exactly bad this year — he averaged fewer points, rebounds, and assists than last season, but with more turnovers per game than a season ago, he certainly didn’t live up to expectations. Of course, none of that is important now that he’s playing well when it matters most and just hit the game-winning shot to beat Vanderbilt and send the Buzzcuts to the Sweet 16.

7. The Big Ten is 9-2 and the state of Ohio is 8-0

As a proud alum of the only Big Ten school located in Ohio, let me just take a second to politely say, “Suck it, every other state and conference.”

8. Kentucky’s stretch to end the game against Iowa State is why they are overwhelming favorites to win it all

At the under-16 media timeout in the second half, with Kentucky holding on to a two-point lead, my friend who was watching the game at my place stood up from the couch and said he was going to run to Subway because he didn’t want to miss the game but he was too hungry to wait for the end. When he came back 10 minutes later, Kentucky’s lead was 16, prompting him to ask, “What the hell happened in the 10 minutes I was gone?”

All I could respond with was, “Kentucky happened.”

9. After all these years, Ashley Judd still gets interviewed during Kentucky games for some reason

“I don’t think I can fully understand how good this Kentucky team is until I hear what the chick who starred alongside The Rock in The Tooth Fairy has to say about them.”
—Nobody

10. Indiana is back in the Sweet 16

With the season they had, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the Hoosiers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 10 years. But when you consider the expectations at the start of the season and the fact that VCU outplayed them for most of the game Saturday, Indiana should feel proud to make the Sweet 16. College basketball is at its best when all of the blue bloods have good teams, so it’s encouraging to see the Hoosiers doing well in the tournament during what was supposed to be a tune-up year before IU’s great recruiting class arrived in Bloomington next season.

11. Did we see Shaka Smart’s last game at VCU?

Most Illinois fans have pegged Smart as their pick to fill Bruce Weber’s shoes, and rightfully so. He’s a young Midwesterner with a Final Four and a prestigious CBI championship on his résumé in just three years at VCU. But despite how badly Illini fans want him, the truth is that Smart likely wouldn’t get that much more money from Illinois,1 and he definitely wouldn’t get the job security at Illinois that he has now, which is why I think he’ll ultimately stay with the Rams. That said, he’d get better recruits in Champaign and would have a better opportunity for sustained success, so it wouldn’t be crazy if he decided to leave.

12. Colorado’s karmic run coming to an end


1.

Smart’s base salary at VCU was $1.2 million and Weber’s base salary at Illinois was $1.3 million this year.

Karma always seems to get a bad rap, what with everyone calling it a bitch all the time and the Jersey Shore cast regularly starting fights and exposing their genitals inside of it. But thanks to the Colorado athletic department, karma is slowly restoring its name. First the Buffalo athletic department offered all-expenses-paid trips for 50 students to travel to Los Angeles for the Pac-12 tournament, where their sixth-seeded Buffs made an improbable run to the championship. That alone is above and beyond what most athletic departments do for their students, but Colorado followed that by offering another great deal to all Colorado students for the NCAA tournament. In what should come as no surprise, the 11th-seeded Buffaloes won their opening-round game against UNLV and then had third-seeded Baylor on the ropes in front of a heavy pro-Colorado crowd before the Bears got hot and pulled away late.

13. Brady Heslip’s shooting display against Colorado was a thing of beauty

Being a Canadian who parts his hair, Heslip looks like the kind of kid who knocks on your door to sell candy bars for his Little League team and is so innocent that he doesn’t realize $4 for a king-size Kit Kat is a complete rip-off. But then you see him play and you realize that he’s infinitely cockier than you thought, as evidenced by the fact that he’s a flagrant violator of the premature loose butthole monocle.2 That said, against Colorado on Saturday night, he had every right to throw up as many loose butthole monocles as he wanted because his shooting performance (9-for-12 from behind the arc) was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the NCAA tournament.

14. Charles Barkley is delightfully bad in the studio


2.

The only times that it’s acceptable for a player to throw up the loose butthole monocle: when he hits a buzzer beater (shot clock buzzer beaters included); when he hits his third, fourth, fifth, etc. three in a row; or when his 3 caps off a huge run for his team that leads to a timeout being called by the opposition.

I know that the same can be said about him when he’s working NBA games, but it’s especially true during March Madness. What makes it that much better is that Barkley is usually the last of the analysts to chime in with his thoughts, so by the time it’s his turn to talk all of the obvious points have been mentioned. As a result, Barkley, who clearly hadn’t watched a single college basketball game before the tournament, ends up saying things like, “I think the team that (insert something obvious, like “plays defense” or “scores a lot of points”) will have a good chance at winning the game.”

15. The officiating has been awful

Being an official is a thankless job, but it’s also a job that completely deserves any and all criticism when done terribly, so here are some memorably bad calls that potentially changed the outcomes of games so far in this year’s tournament:

• Notre Dame getting called for a bogus lane violation late in the game against Xavier
• Trevor Releford not getting the foul call when he was clearly hit on the elbow as he shot the potential game-winner against Creighton
• Pretty much everything that happened in the final two minutes of Syracuse vs. UNC-Asheville

As if that’s not bad enough, there were handfuls of other terrible calls that weren’t directly responsible for deciding games, such as all of the technicals called for hanging on the rim, and every single call Ted Valentine has made.

16. Carolina looked dominant against Creighton

I’ve said for a few weeks now that the national title is Carolina’s to lose because they are basically just a more experienced, offensive-minded Kentucky, and Sunday’s performance against Creighton only solidified this opinion. The Heels are relentless offensively and really just need to play a tiny bit of defense to dominate their opponents. In fact, the only way I can imagine Carolina not winning the title this year is if a key player gets injured. You know, for example, an injury like …

17. Kendall Marshall’s broken wrist

It can’t be overstated how much the availability and effectiveness of Marshall impacts North Carolina’s title chances, but I’ll try anyway: North Carolina might as well forfeit against Ohio if Marshall can’t play the rest of the tournament, because Duke will have as good of a chance to win the national championship as they will.

18. North Carolina State is no Cinderella

Based on their seed, it’s easy to label NC State a Cinderella team, but Cinderella teams typically look out of place and win because of luck, uncharacteristically hot shooting, or uncharacteristically cold shooting from the opposition. NC State, on the other hand, looks every bit like a 4- or 5-seed and is a legitimate threat to make it to New Orleans. The phrase “peaking at the right time” is beaten to death this time of year, but if there was ever a team that that phrase described perfectly, it’s the Wolfpack.

19. The end of the Robbie Hummel Era

Fact: The last time Hummel wasn’t on Purdue’s roster, Michael Jackson was alive, Bob Barker was the host of The Price Is Right, and the iPhone hadn’t been released yet. No words could accurately express what Hummel has meant to Purdue during the last five years, and as one of the nicest guys in the sport, it was impossible not to cheer for him, especially with all he had to endure because of his two ACL tears. It’s a shame that he didn’t get to play in the NCAA tournament with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore the last two years, when Purdue would’ve been Final Four contenders, but at least he was able to end his career on a somewhat high note by lighting up Kansas for 26 points and nine rebounds.

20. The Buick Verano commercial featuring the band whose name I don’t care to know is my own personal hell

If you would’ve told me on Thursday that the Buick Verano commercial with the tour buses following a girl to the dry cleaners would run away with the title of “most annoying commercial of the 2012 tournament,” I would’ve considered it an upset. But in retrospect, it was the obvious choice all along because the overall premise of the commercial is ridiculous, and it features a song that gets stuck in your head and a guy whose face is just asking to be punched. I’m not sure who the band in the commercial is, but I do know that while it may have started with a whisper, it’s going to end with me putting car bombs in all those buses if that commercial continues violating my ears.