NCAA Tournament First Day Musings: Absolute Madness and Uh-Oh Big East

Adam McNerneyContributor IMarch 19, 2010

Is there a better day in a calendar year than the first day of the NCAA tournament?

I don’t think so.

Think about it. If you’ve taken off from work, or school, you get to roll out of bed and watch wall-to-wall basketball for about 12 hours.

If you are at work and sit at a computer, the NCAA even hooks it up with their live coverage available on-demand over the internet. You can even choose the game! Clutch!

What a first day we had though. Perhaps the most memorable first day in a number of years, although that always seems true regardless of the year. Perhaps that’s a testament to just how special the Tournament is.

The following are some general thoughts about this glorious Thursday, a day that pretty much defined March Madness. Everything from the Games, to the coverage itself and even a little bit of non-sports related jaw-droppingness.


Brackets = Busted:

-First and foremost, how’s your bracket(s) looking? Personally, mine are shot. All six of them.

Um, Big East, What happened?

-The Big East haters may have had their haterade jugs filled today with the ugly performances of all the teams from the conference.

Number two Villanova looked very bad, and barely squeaked out a win against the 15th seeded Robert Morris.

Truthfully, Robert Morris deserved to win the game. Villanova got A TON of help from the referees, especially late.

Ticky-tack calls against Robert Morris let Villanova climb back into the game and eventually win it in overtime.

This wouldn’t have been so bad had it been consistent on both sides, but the fouls that were being called against Robert Morris were the same fouls that just weren’t being called against Villanova.  

Very questionable officiating at best and Villanova is unbelievably lucky to get out of its First Round game. I wouldn’t expect much else from the Wildcats at this point, although maybe this game will be a wakeup call.

Also, I wouldn’t expect Wildcat superstar Scottie Reynolds to have another awful game shooting wise like he did today (To his credit though, he drilled a dagger three and stepped it up at the free throw line— true signs of a great player).

This was the first game of the day for the Big East and it was a very sloppy start for the conference.

-Perhaps the nation’s most up-and-down team this year, Georgetown became the highest seed to lose today, as they were a three seed. No. 14 Ohio University played a terrific game against The Hoya’s and were on fire offensively throughout the whole game.

Georgetown’s defense just didn’t show up, and a team that was playing for the Big East Title less than a week ago is now playing as much basketball as the rest of us watching the tournament—none.

Disappointing to say the least for the Hoya’s, and it had to be a major blow to brackets all across the country.

-Marquette looked good for most of the duration of the game against Washington. The Golden Eagles even had a 15 point lead at one point in the second half.

But, Washington’s stud player Quincy Pondexter (Don’t you just love that name?) put the team on his back and rallied his troops to get back into the game.

The final minutes of the game were thrilling, as it turned into a back-and-forth affair. Pondexter provided a virtual buzzer beater to advance the 11th seeded Huskies into the round of 32.

Marquette really didn’t look too awful this game; Washington just outplayed them down the stretch. But, a loss is a loss, and it’s another loss for the Big East.

How about one of the conferences hottest teams in Notre Dame? A team that really played themselves into the tournament in the final weeks of the regular season. Surely they could salvage some respect…

Ehh, not so much.

Scoring 51 points, as No. 11 Old Dominion did, won’t win you a lot of games, unless your opponent only scores 50 like No. 6 Notre Dame did (and frankly, the Fighting Irish were lucky to get to 50 on a meaningless put back by Luke Harangody as the final buzzer sounded).

Notre Dame has been thriving on defense lately, but at some point, you’ve got to score points.

Harangody closes out a brilliant career with Notre Dame in very disappointing fashion, finishing with just four points. Although I loathed him throughout his career, it’s still sad to see such a great player go out so quietly.

All that left the Big East with just one win, and a very ugly win at that, and four losses. Marquette looked the best, even though it let the Huskies go on a wild run to come back into the game.

The Big East bashers will be in full form tonight and deservedly so. Not a good showing at all by a conference many considered to be the best in the country.

Perhaps even worse is that every Big East team to lose today was the higher ranked team.

Tomorrow the Big East powerhouses come to play, with Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburg (and to a lesser extent, Louisville) tipping off in matches where they will all be favored. Those teams will have to salvage some respect for a league that took a huge blow on Thursday.


The Madness in full force:

What an insane day for close games. No. 13 Murray States buzzer beating shot by Danero Thomas was incredible and sent No. 4 Vanderbilt packing early.

I’m sure everyone thought that Vanderbilt would be the highest seed to lose today…Georgetown made sure that didn’t remain true.

How about that shot by No. 9 Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh to send No. 8 UNLV home? As Bill Raftery exclaimed: “Onions!” (Someone want to explain to me what that means?)

I couldn’t understand for the life of me why UNLV kept double-teaming the ball-handler at the end of the game. Didn’t they know they were going to leave somebody wide open?

Well Ali, one of the team’s best shooters, was left wide open, albeit from very deep. A great shooter doesn’t notice distance though, and his three-pointer touched nothing but the bottom of the net.

Bad close-out defense in my opinion by UNLV. Double-teaming the best player in a clutch situation is understandable, but you’ve got to stay home, especially on the shooters.

Quincy Pondexter’s drive was a thing of beauty at the end of the game against Marquette. I actually thought the half-court shot at the end by Marquette was going in. The trajectory was nice, it started to dip at just the right time, and had it been maybe three more inches to the right, it would have banked home a one point win for the Golden Eagles.

For as bad as Notre Dame played, the potential game tying three-pointer at the end was half-way down before it rimmed out. Heartbreaking unkindness from the basket and even more heartbreaking for a team that had been playing pretty good basketball lately.

BYU-Florida. Double overtime? Does much more need to be said?

Although there wasn’t a game winning buzzer beater, that was a fun game to watch.

Props to Florida for holding as strong as it could and putting to bed the haters who said they didn’t deserve to be in or wouldn’t be competitive.

Another Overtime game? The thrilling game between Wake Forest and Texas provided us with the third overtime game of the day.

Last year’s tournament had a TOTAL of two overtime games. Super competitive day.

And what else did Wake Forest and Texas provide us? Just another ridiculous, clutch, game-winning, buzzer-beating shot by Ishmael Smith.

Texas played well for a team that has been so ravished by injuries, but free throw shooting really cost them at the end. With a chance to go up by three in the final seconds of overtime, Texas clanked both shots and allowed Smith to have a chance at glory.

He cashed in, at Texas’s expense.

Finally, I feel terrible for Robert Morris, as mentioned above. The Referee’s really decided that game and the Colonials truly deserved to be the first 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed since Hampton University stunned Iowa St. in 2001.

But, it was still a fun game to watch, and Villanova was barely able to save some face for the Big East, although it was an ugly face.


Number One And Feeling Great:

The No. 1 seeds looked pretty good.

Kentucky looked incredible, putting up 100 points.

For all the negativity surrounding Kentucky coach John Calipari, he constantly puts a winning product on the court. I wish his recruiting practices were a little more sound, but the guy consistently gets the best players and puts together teams that are hard to beat.

However, as Memphis and Umass will tell you, that success has come with a hefty and costly price.

The overall No. 1 seed, Kansas, was in a battle with Lehigh for a lot of the game.

As well as Lehigh played, Kansas just exerted its dominance about halfway through the second half and pulled away.

Not much to worry about yet if you’re a fan of either of those teams.

Although with Kentucky, there may be some worrying in the future.


Some General Observations:

The Montana-New Mexico game didn’t tip until 10:30 p.m! Not complaining, since I love to watch basketball until midnight, but man is that ever a late start.

I think every single team in every single game used all of their timeouts today. The very end of the Washington-Marquette game was pretty funny.

This always leads to something I tend to forget about, but am immediately reminded of when the Tournament starts—constant bombardment with commercials.

CBS rarely stays with the game when a timeout is called, even if it’s a 20 second timeout. I suppose that’s to be expected.

However, the only exception is when they’re flipping back and forth between close games and a team calls a timeout. Once that timeout is called, CBS will usually flip to the other close game if it's in the final moments. 

Last year, those commercials actually worked for me.

I remember CBS was absolutely hyping their murder-mystery mini-series “Harper’s Island” during last year's tournament, and I think a commercial was shown for it at every possible moment. I absolutely had to watch it then.

The show was fun to watch, but could have been a lot better. The premise of a one-season mini-series mixing the genres of horror, drama, mystery and action is an awesome idea. Sadly, CBS kind of botched it, and I don’t think we’ll be seeing another one of those anytime soon.

A single tear just dripped onto my keyboard.

Funny thing I noticed today. In all the games I saw where a team had a chance to tie it with a three, no opposing teams fouled.

What has become an almost go-to strategy was ignored for straight up defense and you know what? None of those teams hit the three, although Notre Dame came as close as humanly possible.

The quality of the coverage was pretty good and tight, although I heard CBS botched some of the end of the games. However, I cannot wait to hear Gus Johnson tomorrow. He is one of the best announcers working and his raw passion is unmatched.

I hope he gets paid a lot, because he’s deserves it.

Uh-oh Syracuse: who called the Syracuse-Vermont game in 2005? That very Gus Johnson.  Take one wild guess as to who’s calling the Syracuse-Vermont game tomorrow.

Also Uh-oh Syracuse: Kansas St. made all of Orange Nation a lot more worried today with their absolute domination of North Texas. Orange fans are rooting hard for any team to upset the Wildcats.

The Orange tip off tomorrow night following the Gonzaga-FSU game. It’s supposed to be 9:30 p.m, but could be a whole lot later depending on how that previous game goes.

Regardless, Orange Nation has a full day to get nice and revved up for the teams first appearance as a No. 1 seed since 1980.

Watch out Vermont.

If you didn’t read Jameson Fleming’s outstanding article , you should. And although this team doesn't play until tomorrow, with his 46th point Jameson mentions that Utah St. has the best student section of all the teams in the tournament.

And my goodness is he ever right.

It sends chills down my spine to watch this  and makes me want to go to Utah next year strictly to see that amazingness in person. Wow. (Scroll down in the comment section of the video to read what the crowd is saying).

Again, full hat tip to Jameson for finding that, I just love to re-iterate it because it's so amazing.  

Which team looked the best today? I suppose that honor would have to go to Kentucky. However, Kansas St. was super impressive. Both of those teams were absolutely dominating.

Which team looked the worst? For a team that won, Villanova played pretty bad. However, UTEP dropped a bomb in its game against Butler. What was a close game turned into a blowout, so I’ll give that (dis)honor to UTEP.

The final game of the day, the game between New Mexico and Montana (which almost ended in another epic upset), ended at 12:50 a.m. EST. Wow.

Lower seeded teams won five games today. That’s one game shy of the record of six, which was set all the way back in 1991.

For the record, I had Murray St. winning, and I’ve got another 13 seed winning tomorrow: Wofford over Wisconsin.

Today really set the tone for the rest of the weekend, and it’s hard to imagine that Friday could be any more madder than Thursday was.

What a great day it was for basketball, and it reminded all of us, and any outsiders who are not privy to the Tournament, of why this is such a beautiful and captivating event.

Finally, here’s something completely non-sports related. Take a look at this unbelievable story I found today on the internet: Woman desires to become fattest person ever . Yes, you read that hyperlink right. I don’t know what to make of it, but my goodness. That’s got to be the first time in human history anyone has had that kind of goal.

Sit Back, Relax, It's March Madness!

Enjoy the rest of the basketball weekend, and for all of you contributing to the downtrodden workplace productivity tomorrow: Rock on!


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