Well, my stomach is full, my eyes are slightly rested (after staring at this laptop screen for over five hours), my bracket is intact (again, not gloating...I figure it can’t last long!), and Stanford is the eighth team to advance after drubbing Ivy League champ Cornell, 77-53, in a game that wasn’t nearly that close.
So we proceed... I’m no different from any of you. As soon as I saw the bracket, my eyes lit up at the prospect of watching star freshmen Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo trade hoops in the first round.
It shouldn’t be any surprise to you, therefore, that Kansas State/USC will occupy the main place on my 60-inch television tonight. Other early games that will be fighting for a spot on the 32-inch screen: Belmont/Duke, Winthrop/Washington State (my upset special—I picked Winthrop), and the dreaded 8-9 game, Texas A&M/BYU.
7:07—Everyone is obviously making a big deal of Mayo vs. Beasley, but don’t forget Mayo vs. Bill Walker. O.J’s high school teammate helped him win a couple state titles at Cincinnati College Hill, and they’ll battle tonight for a spot in the second round.
7:09—And we’re off! The showcase game has just tipped...also Duke/Belmont.
7:09—Speaking of Belmont, they’re off to a good start, knocking down a three. That game’s being played at Verizon Center in Washington D.C., while the KSU/USC matchup is taking place in Omaha.
7:10—My picks are Duke, USC, A&M (mild upset), and Winthrop (huge upset). I really struggled with the USC/Kansas State game. I can see either Mayo or Beasley taking their team on a Sweet 16 run. In a close game, I’m giving the edge to the more experienced coach: Tim Floyd of the Trojans.
7:11—I’m really torn watching Duke. I always pick them to go deep into March, and more often than not, have been burned. (see: VCU). I do have them winning three games this time around, but since they’re in Purdue’s sub-regional, I would be glad to sacrifice my bracket on the altar of paving the road for the Boilers to advance. So...why not...go Belmont!
7:13—It’s not often you get to see NBA-quality athleticism on display in Omaha. In the first four minutes, this game has lived up to its billing. Lots of blocked shots, contested jumpers, and backdoor cuts.
7:15—Huge turn of events: Michael Beasley just picked up his second foul. Time to see if Bill Walker and the “supporting cast” can step up. In my not-so-expert opinion, foul trouble is one of the most overlooked aspects of picking a bracket. Anybody can draw a quick foul and nobody thinks twice...but all of a sudden that player is one little mistake or borderline call from sitting on the bench for ten minutes.
7:17—We have a Vince Gill sighting in Washington, D.C. The popular singer has followed his Belmont Bruins to the Big Dance.
7:18—Winthrop and Washington State are about to tip off the Gus Johnson game in Denver. I’m going to have to pay close attention to the Eagles, who are one of two 13 seeds I have advancing (San Diego also).
7:19—Walker has seven points in the first five minutes for K-State. He can put up big numbers...but you’d think OJ and the Trojans know that.
7:21—Belmont is settling for outside jumpers against Duke. Memo to any team playing Duke: if you turn the game into an outside shooting competition, you play right into their hands...and they’ll crush you. It’s what they do. If they wanted to be a power team inside, they’d play seven-footer Zoubek more often....but they’re just an athletic team that can shoot and defend with anybody in the country.
7:23—That’s what scares me about a possible Purdue/Duke matchup in the regional if both teams get that far. Purdue, in my opinion, is really just a poor man’s version of Duke. Lots of intense halfcourt defense, great shooters, and...about two years less experience.
7:24—Winthrop/Washington State looks like a defensive struggle so far. Five minutes gone...three combined hoops.
7:33—After a brief break to dry dishes (you’ve gotta have priorities!), it’s time to take stock of the games. Winthrop and Washington State haven’t scored since I left (okay, that’s not quite true). The teams are actually moving along quite nicely—in fact they’re almost both in double figures! 10-8, Eagles.
7:35—One of the reasons I like Tim Floyd as a coach is his willingness to try “junk” defenses. At the moment he’s using a box-and-one to help neutralize Beasley. I have to admit I’m surprised No. 30 is back in the game already. With over ten minutes left in the half, it will be crucial for him not to get a third foul before the halftime break.
7:36—You can tell USC/KSU is a huge game because play-by-play man Kevin Harlan is excited about 20 minutes earlier in the game than he normally is. Bill Walker’s in double figures (yes, before Washington State is!) and KSU is up nine. I see my bracket crumbling before my eyes. Let’s go Trojans!
7:37—The thing about Beasley that’s so impressive is he gets his hands on every rebound. It seems like he just can’t be boxed out!
7:39—Most surprising team of the evening so far: 15 seed Belmont is all tied up with Duke at 28. Duke tends to play well in streaks...we’ll see how long the Bruins can hold up.
7:40—USC/KSU’s at a commercial, so I’m going to flip over and pay attention to Winthrop for a while. I don’t know if I picked the Eagles because I successfully predicted their win over Notre Dame last year...or because of how impressive they were in the Big South title game on the road against 7’7” giant Kenny George and UNC-Asheville...or maybe just because I think Washington State (and the Pac-10) might be a tad overrated.
7:42—It’s not that Washington State (and teams like them...see: WISCONSIN) are bad ballclubs. They’re not. But they can be (in the politically correct words of my wife) “incredibly boring to watch”. Defense wins championships...but it doesn’t always win the ratings battle. Back to USC/KSU we go.
7:44—Oops, one last thought on Winthrop: the Eagles have two of the best guards you’ve never heard of: Michael Jenkins (14.3 ppg) and Chris Gaynor (the conference’s all-time assists and steals leader). Stay tuned.
7:45—A&M’s game has started. BYU, however, doesn’t look like they’ve shown up quite yet. Aggies 8-0 early.
7:46—Bill Walker is on fire for the Kansas State Wildcats. I picked against K-State because I didn’t think their supporting cast would step up to help out Beasley...but I knew Walker could be an X-factor, and so far, he’s been the best player on the floor.
7:47—I’m taking predictions on when UNLV will register points. So far we’ve played five minutes.
7:49—And the shutout is over. A&M 11, BYU 2, six minutes into the game. 7:49 About the only thing going wrong for Kansas State so far: Bill Walker is headed back to the locker room to get worked on (blood?)
7:50—Foul trouble strikes again in Omaha...this time it hits the Trojans. Taj Gibson is taking his 11 ppg and 8 rpg to the bench with his third foul.
7:52—Commercials in three cities at the same time. I guess that means it’s time to watch some Duke/Belmont.
7:53—And we now have a commercial there too. Must be time to upload this hour to the Internet. See you at 8:00—this could be the best set of finishes so far!