At least it's shaping up that way if Sunday delivers.
As disappointed as I was in last year's opening weekend of March Madness, this one is exceeding all expectations. Putting aside the fact that my bracket now resembles Kabul after the Taliban rolled through in '96 - a map of ordered failure - and that Texas received a much-needed mercy killing, if you're a basketball purist, you can't help but be pleased at the quality of play this weekend. It had everything: dominance, upstarts, Cinderellas, clutchitude, chokiness, and fascinating and obscure mascots.
Guard play continues to cover team blemishes like the make-up counter at Sephora and it's crystal clear that the skilled guard who can dribble, shoot, and make good decisons but lacks "NBA measurables" is currently the most undervalued commodity in college basketball. Who wants a 6-1 guy that doesn't immediately project to the Clippers if all he can do is nail open threes like lay-ups, possesses a recognizable basketball IQ, and has a good handle?
Second, if you can't find skill in the post, have strength, aggression, and effort. The 6-6 260 pound power forward who knows his role and will stick to his knitting frustrates more talented thoroughbreds at the college level in halfcourt. Always has. Always will.
Third, possessing an actual system - whatever it may be - is preferable to rolling out a bunch of athletes and hoping that they cohere. Watching the Wake Forest-Texas game was a painful reminder of that fact, particularly when viewed in contrast Butler/Murray State. But we have lottery players, dood!
Fourth, the mid-range game is dead. Mid-majors have learned that they need only defend the three point line and have enough team defense to step in and take the charge on the drive. Rinse, wash, repeat.
If you can sink an open 12-15 footer consistently off of the bounce, you're in like Flint. Where have you gone, Andrew Toney and Joe Dumars?
Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas - the best combination of the observations above - illustrates why basketball is a cool sport. What other game allows fundamental play to equalize pure athleticism more powerfully? Line up the rosters for Northern Iowa and Kansas and have them run a bunch of shooting and dribbling drills, test verticals and speed, and then do a draft. Seven or eight Jayhawks will be selected before the first UNI player.
Never mind that they're whiter than Greg Gumbel's squash game - UNI can ball.
So how did KU lose?
Collins and Taylor combining to go 4 of 21 from the field is a good place to start. When Sherron's shot won't fall, he won't settle for being a creator. That's a problem for a senior point guard.
From the UNI perspective, the recipe is a familiar one and it smacks us upside the head every time Greece routs a Dream Team. Take a bunch of shooters, mix in some hipster beef - UNI's rotation at 4/5 weighs 245, 255, 255, 280, respectively (including a heavily tattooed lycanthrope Irish wookie named Lucas O'Rear) - that will block out and screen like their lives depend on it, take care of the basketball, make great decisions, and refuse to play the game that And 1 videos tell you that basketball is.
Having an Ali Farokhmanesh with the onions to sink a cold-blooded three pointer doesn't hurt either.
That game also demonstrated why officiating is crucial. If the Jayhawks had been afforded a Dukeian deference from the zebras, they would have cruised by 10+. The fact that you can still get an honest game of basketball called at the collegiate level is reason enough that it's a better game than the NBA.
St. Marys over Villanova might have been the least surprising upset to date. It's pretty clear that Scottie Reynolds checked out weeks ago and his disinterest in playing his last games as a Wildcat is as evident as the fact that he as at least one member in his entourage whose only job being to repeat what Scottie says preceded by the words "My man Scottie say..." followed by ingratiating high fives all around.
Scottie's 2 game NCAA tournament statline against 15 seed Robert Morris and 10 seed St Marys?
4 of 26 from the field.
For a smooth 15.4% shooting percentage.
He also had two fouls total in two NCAA tournament games. Thanks for the hard-nosed D, team leader. I'll follow your career in Ukraine with interest.
Continuing on the theme of the Big East's semi-fraudulence, Ohio's massacre of Georgetown was a shock to me, though apparently not to some Hoya supporters. Perhaps they could have let me know before I put Georgetown in my Elite 8? The Athenians shot 58% from the field and dropped 97 points on the Hoyas and though Greg Monroe managed 19 points and 13 rebounds...that was paired with 7 TOs. There's a message there, NBA GMs.
Watching Georgetown's weirdly unassertive body language and disinterest in defending forced my own Jesuitical inquiry - why are a bunch of guys who play their summer ball on the open run courts in DC such total pussies? Is Anacostia now completely gentrified?
Baylor is learning to win on a big stage. Stop them soon or go ahead and book them in Indy. I love their guard play and the Dunn/Carter combo certainly gets the attention it deserves, but Udoh is what makes them go. Vasherized likens Udoh to a prawn from District 9 and that's a solid comparison, not just because Scott Drew feeds him cat food and keeps him in a dorm shanty. Old Dominion focused on Udoh after he massacred Sam Houston in the opening round and Josh Lomers made them pay on the weakside with the easiest 14 points and 8 rebounds I've ever seen.
Josh Lomers made them pay is a sentence written as frequently as Secretary of State Kim Kardashian found common ground with the Chinese on the subject of Iranian nuclear proliferation so enjoy Halley's Comet when it burns through the sky.
If Kentucky handles Wiscy and their trip-to-the-dentist style of play, they likely take on West Virginia for the right to make reservations in Indy. Epic basketball. Epic feudin'. There will be skirmishing and musketry on the Kantuck-Wes' Virginny border - count on it.
I could prattle on - what were your takeaways from the weekend?
Feel free to spare me any references to Texas basketball - that dead horse is beaten.