2011 March Madness: Power Ranking the Top 10 Things We've Learned from Week 1
College basketball should be an educational experience, right?
Hey, if we don't, or didn't, learn much in school, we can still learn a lot about schools, right?
For example, North Carolina Asheville's nickname is the Bulldogs, and they play in the Big South Conference.
You may recall some of their conference rivals (i.e., the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers) from past Big Dances.
And if NC Asheville does not have the best collection of hoops-playing bulldogs (I'd go with Butler here), Coastal Carolina certainly has the most ferocious band of chanticleers to be found outside of a medieval farm.
But, back to hoops.
What did we learn from those first 48 (plus four) games that reduced the dance card to 16 teams?
Any surprise players, teams, or events?
Any developments that validated our expectations?
Anybody heard of a kid named Jimmer?
No computers or RPI ratings were used to generate this arbitrary list, which should make it more (subjectively) accurate than most.
With that said, on to No. 10.
10. Duke Still Owns Michigan
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Duke should have won, no contest.
The Blue Devils were the No. 1 seed; Michigan, the No. 8.
Duke came in with a 31-4 record; the Wolverines were a pedestrian 21-13.
The game was played on Tobacco Road.
To say that Michigan made a great game of it would be an understatement.
Down by 15 with under 11 minutes to play, Michigan came within a great look of sending the game into overtime.
Alas, Duke prevailed 73-71, in the team's first Big Dance meeting since the 1992 championship game when Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and company defeated the Fab Five 71-51.
(If Michigan had scored 71 back then, they would have sent that game into overtime.)
You may have heard just a little about that game from a certain Jalen Rose-produced ESPN documentary that got a rise out of many, including Mr. Hill.
The beleaguered Selection Committee appears to have gotten this matchup correct, and they almost got a terrific upset as well.
9. It's Easier to Stage a Buzzer Beater Than an OT Game
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Not counting the four play-in games (where there was a single overtime victory by NC Asheville over Arkansas Little Rock), not one of the previous 48 games went to overtime.
But it's not as if there weren't a lot of thrilling games that were decided on the last possession.
14 contests went down to the wire, and only one of them made it into overtime—and that game needed two extra periods to settle it.
Ironically, San Diego State (No. 2) defeated a game Temple Owls (No. 7) squad by seven points. So technically, that didn't come down to a last possession.
But leaving technicalities aside, when there are that many games, there are bound to be some thrilling, chilling buzzer beaters among them, and the first two rounds have not disappointed.
Below are three examples, just from the first day of Round of 64 action.
There were the upsets, such as Morehead State (No. 13) getting a clean block to oust No. 4 Louisville 62-61.
There were cases of prohibitive favorites squeaking by; Kentucky (another No. 4) survived No. 13 Princeton 59-57.
And then there were evenly matched foes taking it to the final horn, a la Butler getting a follow-up at the buzzer to nip Old Dominion 60-58.
8. Derrick Williams Is a Beast at the End of Games
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Derrick Williams, a 6'9" sophomore power forward for Arizona, has certainly been one of the players of the tourney thus far.
Arizona has survived two squeakers: a 77-75 first-round affair over Memphis, and a 70-69 had-to-see-it-to-believe-it cliffhanger over Texas.
In both cases, Williams was the reason his team played on.
Against Memphis, he blocked a follow-up attempt off an intentionally missed free throw at the buzzer to ice the win.
The Texas game was even crazier, but it came down to his tremendously acrobatic basket-and-one drive to beat the Longhorns by a point.
Williams was already considered a strong NBA prospect; his Big Dance heroics won’t hurt his stock any.
7. (The) ACC Is Looking Good
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It's hard to take pity on a conference as highly regarded as the ACC.
They feature the Yankees and Red Sox of college hoops in the form of the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
But with all their success over the years, and even though they hold last year's championship (the Yankees, er, Duke), they "only" placed four teams in this year's tourney, and one of them (Clemson) had to win a play-in game to get to the official 64.
Now, it is my personal belief that no conference should have more than half their teams make the Big Dance, and I'm hard-pressed to justify more than four. But of course, the Selection Committee took 11 out of 16 Big East teams, while only picking four of the ACC's 12.
More on this later, and here:
Despite the likes of Virginia Tech and Boston College being spurned, the ACC has had three of its four teams (more than any other conference) advance to the Sweet 16.
One expected this from the Red Sox and the Yankees, but Florida State (the Blue Jays?) has been a surprise.
6. Jimmer's Not Fazed by the Spotlight
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There's not too much I can add to the instant legend of Mr. Fredette, the most popular Jimmer in the history of the known universe.
In case you were wondering, the harsh lights of the big stage have not intimidated Jimmer in the least.
The nation's leading scorer (now at 28.8 points per game) has scored a total of 68 points in the first two rounds, leading BYU to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981.
It's one thing to open with 32 points on a 10-25 shooting performance in a closer than expected eight-point win versus Wofford.
It's quite another to put up 36 points, while going 11-23 (including 7-12 from beyond the arc) in spearheading the demolition of a fine Gonzaga team, 89-67.
Many fans are wondering whether he'll be a bust like former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison, an okay player like J.J. Redick (of Duke fame, now with the Orlando Magic), or a potential star in the making like Stephen Curry (a second year Golden State Warrior from Davidson).
At this point, who cares? If you enjoy college hoops, how can you possibly not love the electricity Jimmer Fredette brings to the arena.
5. Zebras Will Always Be Controversial
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In any sport, officials have a very tough job to do, and I always try to remember that.
While well-paid at the pinnacle of their profession, they are also subject to much more abuse than the normal human being is subjected to in his or her workplace.
It would take too long to go over all of the controversial calls that were made in several games so far. The controversies included the following:
The last two calls in a crazy finish that saw Butler eliminate No. 1 seed Pitt 71-70 on a free throw with 0.8 seconds remaining.
A very rare five-second call with 15 seconds remaining in the Texas-Arizona game. Up by two points, a Texas player signaled for "timeout" while attempting to inbound the ball under the Arizona basket. This led to an Arizona possession and a three-point basket in the 70-69 Arizona win.
Various apparent mistakes made at the end of North Carolina's 86-83 victory over Washington.
Well, everyone makes mistakes: players, coaches, broadcasters, fans, writers, and even the officials.
It's just that mistakes by the zebras (or calls and non-calls regarded as mistakes by partial and impartial bodies alike) tend to be highlighted, underlined, and circled more than those of others.
And then, they are replayed in super-slow motion.
4. Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk and Ohio State
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While there have been some great Cinderella stories in this tourney (I have not forgotten), the two biggest "chalk" teams have done nothing so far to discourage their fans.
Ohio State was considered the heavy favorite to come out of the East, and they have outscored their first two opponents (University of Texas San Antonio and George Mason) by a combined 173-112.
They are deep and talented, and led by a freshman All-American center, Jared Sullinger, who is poised well beyond his years.
They do figure to be tested much more in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, and in the Elite Eight by (if form holds) North Carolina.
In the Southwest, Kansas has had no problem dispatching Boston U and Illinois, and they are the only chalk team standing in a region where Richmond, VCU, and Florida State are still very much alive.
Led by junior twin brothers, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Kansas figures to have an easier road to the Final Four than the Buckeyes. But you never know.
Rock, paper, scissors; chalk, rock...lock?
And speaking of those underdog teams...
3. Cinderella Is Still Dancing—a Few of Her
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If I had my way, more mid-majors would get into the tourney, at the expense of some of those power conference schools.
It is unfair, and ludicrous, that 30 of the 37 at-large berths were awarded to teams from only six of the nation's conferences. And consider that those six conferences account for only 73 of the 346 eligible teams.
Luckily, even though the decks are stacked against them, there are many "little" schools to root for this year.
The Selection Committee was roundly criticized for even letting Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) make the field of 68. All they have done since then is rout USC 59-46 in the play-in game, destroy No. 6 seed Georgetown 74-56 in the round of 64, and demolish third-seeded Purdue 94-76 to reach the Sweet 16.
They will now meet No. 10 Florida State, but forgive me if I give less play to power conference also-rans such as the Seminoles and the East's No. 11 seed, Marquette.
Richmond, a neighbor of VCU's and the No. 12 seed in the Midwest, has looked quite impressive in knocking off Vandy and an even bigger Cinderella team, Morehead State.
Although they are seeded No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, San Diego State is a new, exciting mid-major team, and the BYU Fredettes haven't gotten this far since 1981.
(Of course,and quite ironically, one of BYU's players was suspended from the team for going the distance, which may keep his team from advancing further.)
And we have not even mentioned...
2. (The) Butler Did It...Again and Again
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The Butler Bulldogs, that fine little school from Indianapolis, came within inches of pulling off one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Finals history last year, eventually falling to Duke 61-59.
After losing their all-everything forward, Gordon Heyward, to the NBA, Butler wasn't supposed to be so potent this year. Were they?
To be fair, this unit is not as good as last year's bunch that went 33-5, 18-0 in their conference.
But the Bulldogs are exceptionally well-coached by Brad Stevens, and they have a knack for doing the right things at crunch time, whether it's senior Matt Howard crashing the offensive glass for a tip-in at the buzzer to nip Old Dominion, or (okay) Howard drawing an over-the-back foul while boxing out against Pitt.
He nailed the go-ahead free throw with 0.8 seconds left to earn his team a trip to the Sweet 16.
Butler does not always make it look easy, and, indeed, they were only 14-9 this season until embarking on their current 11-game win streak.
It will not be easy for them to get to the Final Four, but it should not surprise anyone if Stevens, Howard, Shelvin Mack, and company find a way to get past Wisconsin—and then the Florida-BYU winner—to get to Houston.
The Big East Always Wins...When It Plays the Big East
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Let us recap the Big East's tournament so far.
A ludicrous 11 of their 16 teams—and every single team that finished at least .500 in their conference—got in the draw, and none of them even had to play in one of the preliminary games.
The 12th best team in the Big East was Seton Hall (7-11; 13-18). Perhaps there’s a Big East advocate who thought they were snubbed. Only 11 teams?!
Admittedly, the Big East had great depth this year, if no super team. But there is no way on Earth to convince the skeptics that they were not overrated this year, and they were given every possible chance to do well in this tournament.
So far, so bad.
Only two Big East schools have made it to the Sweet 16 (Marquette and Connecticut), and they got there by one of the easiest routes available in this year’s Big Dance. They beat other Big East schools (Syracuse and Cincinnati).
If both Marquette and UConn get to the Final Four, I, and many others, should eat some Big East crow.
But until that happens, the supposed greatest conference in the nation has not even been a paper tiger. How about a paper pansy?