I was originally going to put together a post for the first couple days of the tournament. Then I started drinking with my Dad at 10 am on St. Patrick’s Day. Then I decided it would be a good idea to eschew my mid-afternoon drunken nap and meet up with some of my degenerate friends (Ask Greg about these people, I’m the most responsible and respectable person among this group of friends…by a WIDE margin) for more drinking. And then I was in bed by 7:45 pm on St. Patrick’s Day. All in all, it was a great day. Just not a day that was very conducive to getting anything productive done. So, with that in mind, here’s my take on the NCAA Tournament so far as well as some thoughts on the upcoming slate of games.
- I've said it in the comments before, but take a look at Tennessee PG Bobby Maze when he's at the foul line tonight. I've never, ever seen a high level athlete who wanted to be another athlete so badly (save for Kobe Bryant). Maze dribbles like Allen Iverson, wears his hair like Iverson. He even has multiple tattoos that are identical to Iverson. It's kind of creepy.
- It’s no secret that I’m in the bag for Ali Farokmanesh, but just in case you aren’t, here’s something you might not know about him that should (repeat, should) make you love him more: He used to babysit Idaho Football Coach Rob Akey's kids in Washington. G:TB obtained a copy of the list of requirements to submit an application to babysit Rob Akey’s kids. There was only one requirement: BIG BALLS.
- While we’re on the subject of juevos, there is something that’s really bothered me since Saturday night. The notion that the shot by Farokmanesh that effectively sealed the Kansas game, was a terrible shot. Ummm, no. It wasn’t. I understand why people are saying that (time and score), but ask yourself this question: If Farokmanesh pulls the ball out and Northern Iowa sets up their offense, are they getting a better and/or more wide open shot than what Farokmanesh had? I say no. In fact, with the way Kansas had turned up the heat defensively (and the way Northern Iowa’s poise seemed to be melting away), there’s a very real chance that Northern Iowa wouldn’t have gotten a shot off at all. Was it a ballsy shot? For sure. A bad shot? Nope.
(One more thing: The shot that Farokmanesh hit to beat UNLV was a tougher, more pressure packed shot than the clincher versus Kansas. The shot against UNLV came with under 6 seconds left, the scored tied and UNLV’s defense set. The shot against Kansas looks better/tougher because of who it helped beat.)
- Speaking of NCAA Tourney stars whose names most people can’t correctly pronounce, maybe it’s time for all those people who killed Joakim Noah’s game during Florida’s second tournament championship run to acknowledge how unbelievably, totally and completely wrong they were about him. If you re-did that draft today he definitely goes in the top 5 and probably the top 3. Say what you want about him personally but the guy is already one of the league’s top rebounders, plays hard every night, does all the little things and is a proven winner. There was a point when people compared his game to Anderson Varejao (and it wasn’t really that far off). Other than hairstyle, I don’t think we can make those comparisons anymore. Noah could be a starter on a championship team. Shit, Noah may even make an All-Star game or two before it's all said and done. Neither of those are ever happening for Varejao, certainly not without LeBron involved.
- This has been a great tourney. One of the best that I can remember. But TJ’s right, a few more nut punches would really put it over the top.
- You know what’s going to be a great game? When Greivis Vasquez and Sherron Collins’ teams face off in the Spanish League Playoffs next year.
- With all the upsets during the first two rounds, there’s been a lot of talk about how the NBA’s age limit rule has changed the college game and the dynamics of the tournament. This is true. However, the effect of this rule that I find more interesting is the long term effect its had on a number of so-called mid-major programs(Butler, Xavier, Gonzaga...even Vanderbilt (technically not a mid-major but definitely not your typical power conference school). What we are starting to see with many of these mid-majors is a run of continued excellence, not only in their conference but also out of conference and in the tournament that establishes them nationally.
These teams are building sustainable programs by using their national success to gain greater exposure to recruits (where before they could only recruit regionally, at best) which allows them access to a wider range and higher level of recruit than in ever before. And while these recruits are higher level recruits than these schools once attracted, they are still the kinds of kids who are going to be in school for 4 years. This allows coaches to mesh young talent with experienced talent and (in the cases of Butler and Xavier) while incorporating their systems which only serves to further raise the profile of their program through consistent tournament success. This sustained success then leads to the ability to create a brand for their programs in much the same way high-major schools like Duke, Kansas and North Carolina have created brands for their programs. Gonzaga built their brand prior to the age limit rule but both Butler and Xavier have seen a significant boost to their programs in the 3 years since the NBA's age limit was instituted. This model is obviously still in its infancy but we could eventually see a school like Butler, Xavier or even a CAA school use this model to build their program past the level of high-mid major (I need a better name for these programs) and up to the point where their program joins the nation's elite. While this will take many years, and some luck, its a real possibility in basketball due to the relatively small amount of money needed to run a successful, high level program as well the low number of players involved.
One potential offshoot of this model: With the current model in place, one could make the case that's its best for a mid-major coach to stay at his school for the long term (10+ years) and build a brand for his program before (maybe) taking a high profile job at an established basketball power, as opposed to taking the first high major job that comes along because, as we've seen with Dan Monson (Gonzaga to Minnesota) and Todd Lickliter (Butler to Iowa), if they end up at a school that struggles to meet the administration's expectations then the coach will end up fired and working back at a mid-major school with 4-5 years. Only now, they've downgraded to a downtrodden mid-major school and are left with an even bigger rebuilding project then they ever had at their original school.
- Now, that The Wire has been off the air for so long, it’s just nice to have a guy named Omar back in my life.
- Did you see Hoop Dreams? If you did, you no doubt remember William Gates’ prick of a high school coach, Gene Pingatore. Yeah, well, he’s still coaching. In fact, he coached Evan Turner (and Demetri McCamey) in high school. Is it just me or did that guy look like he was in his 60s during Hoop Dreams (which was filmed almost 15 years ago)? Does he prowl the sidelines with a walker now? Or is it just his cryogenically frozen head propped on the scorer’s table?
- Is Ekpe really any more of a name than LaceDarius? And while I'm talking about Baylor, how can you not root for a team whose backcourt consists of a Tweedy and a LaceDarius?
- There's a popular sentiment that the Carrier Dome is going to be overrun with Cornell fans tonight due to the close proximity of Syracuse and Ithaca, therefore giving Cornell a huge homecourt advantage over Kentucky. I couldn't disagree more. Kentucky fans travel. I mean really, really travel. Like midwestern College Football fans travel to warm weather bowl games. Additionally, I don't get the feeling that the majority of Cornell alums still reside in upstate New York. Certainly not enough to paint the Carrier Dome red tonight. I think you're going to see more blue in the crowd tonight and, at least in the early going, are going to see the Kentucky faithful make their presence felt in a very real way. Listen, I hate Kentucky's irrational, mouth breathing, hillbilly fanbase as much as anybody, but I also respect their irrationality and dedication. The only way that Cornell's going to gain a homecourt advantage tonight is if Big Red can keep it close late and get the neutral fans to get behind them down the stretch.
- Obviously, I love the first weekend of the tournament. Everybody does. It's a basketball orgy. However, if I'm being truly honest with myself I'd have to admit that the second weekend of the tournament is better. The teams are better, the stakes are higher and, ultimately, the games are more memorable. Sure, there are memorable moments during the first two rounds but the truly memorable games (Nova-Pitt last year, UConn-Washington '96, Duke-Kentucky '92 and many, many more) come from the Regional Semifinals and Finals. In fact, during Florida's back-to-back title runs the moment I remember most comes from the regional semifinals during their first title chase.
(I couldn't find just the clip of the shot so you're getting a 2006 NCAA Tournament/Florida highlight video. The shot appears at about the 1:19 mark. Well, not the shot but the aftermath of the shot...Noah's reaction to the shot. You'll have take my word for it, it was a great game changing shot. TJ and I looked everywhere for it with no luck. We did find a bag of farokmanesh I thought my dog ate though.)
- Finally, we finish off in the only appropriate way I could think of. With the All G:TB Team, of course.
G: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State - Awesome beard (not as good as mine) and he looks just like the guy having a picnic with his girlfriend from the Miller Lite commercial that's been running all tournament long.
G: Ali Farokmanesh, Northern Iowa - Big balls, fun name, breakout star of the tourney so far.
G: Joe Mazzulla, West Virginia - Murdered Duke two years ago in the tourney, suddenly thrust into the spotlight with the injury to Daryl Bryant and (this is important) he's basically got the same last name (save for one vowel) as my fiancee which allows me to make any number of inappropriate jokes about her and her Italian ancestry.
F: Chris Kramer, Purdue - Because he told me he'd kick my ass if I didn't put him on the All G:TB team.
C: Omar Samham, St. Mary's - He's half Egyptian and half Irish. He used to be a fat kid and he plays basketball in low tops just like me. Need I say more?