Round One of March Madness


The field of 68 is now 32, and I have a few thoughts.

PERFECT BRACKETS

This is bullshit. Let’s have some perspective. The lottery requires you to guess 6 numbers. The perfect bracket requires you to pick winning team in 63 basketball games. No one is getting a perfect bracket. Stop trying, and be happy to outwit your friends and co-workers.

GEORGIA STATE

Coach Ron Hunter tears his achille’s tendon on Sunday celebrating conference championship with his son, RJ, who happens to be the best player on a team the features Kevin Ware, who horribly broke his leg two years ago during Lousiville’s title run.

On Thursday, RJ drains a 28 foot three pointer to give Georgia State a one point lead with seconds to play, while the ghost of Chris Kyle fires a wonder shot of his own knocking Ron out of his medical chair on the sidelines.

I have watched this moment at least 50 times, and have no shame in admitting, I have gotten choked up every time. It is too cliche, too corny. If we saw it happen in a movie, it would bother us almost as much as Coach Boone dialing up a reverse 70 yards from the end zone on the games final play and scoring, but this was real. It happened, and we are fortunate to have seen it. MARCH MADNESS!

KENTUCKY

They are the team to beat, and are playing for history. They would not sniff a play off spot in the eastern conference. I am only excited about the pro prospects of Karl Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley Stein. Towns has the size and versatility to be a star, and Stein is long and athletic enough to have an impact defensively and as a rim crashing roll and put back man on offense. As for the rest of these guys, I haven’t seen much more than middling careers on the bench.

Coach Cal is as good as anyone. He recruits like a demon, implements a hard-nosed defensive scheme, and builds a team-first culture among decorated, individual stars on an annual basis. At this point, any criticism not confined to specific in game decisions can be rooted only in personal subjective style or envy.

DUKE

The Blue Devils played some of the tournament’s best basketball. They spaced the floor, whipped the ball around against the Robert Morris zone with Spursian efficiency and created easy baskets. This was in sharp contrast with most of the other teams in the field which will be addressed later.

Jalil Okafor taps out as a solid pro for me. He is big, but not absurdly long or tall. He is not in great shape, has knocked-knees and a pear-shaped body. He lacks explosiveness of movement. To reach solid pro potential, he must make a concerted effort to retool his body for long term health. If not, he will underwhelm and spend as much time injured as playing.

Justice Winslow and Tyus Jones are my type of guys.

IOWA’S BIG GINGER

With Ed Sheeran tearing up the charts, and this kid running the floor like John Havlicek and throwing in awkward half hooks, it is a golden age for gingers.

SMU GOALTENDING

I have never been one for the letter of the law, even as I spend five days a week practicing law, but it is my undestanding that the goal tend on SMU’s big man was legally correct. This is fundamentally wrong. The call turned the result of the game on a shot that was never going in the basket, and gave us the inverse of the delightful Hunter story, with a darker, bullshittier Alford dynamic. The lesson as always though is do not put yourself in a position to do harm. If SMU’s big man, does not extend his hand, there is no call to be made and his team is playing today.

QUALLS IS QUALITY

I love this guy. He is a breathtaking athlete and plays extremely hard on both ends. The only downside of watching him play is having the announcers continue to tell me that teammate Bobby Portis was the SEC player of the year. Portis is solid, but Qualls is more important to the team, and Towns and Stein are better SEC players.

Player of the year consideration should start with the question, if I am not suicidal, and my life depends on my pick, who do I take? If the choice is close, the next question is, who has won more this season? If you are improbably still atop the fence, who has produced a more iconic moment?

Using this simple criteria, you will avoid picking Bobby Portis as SEC player of the year, and simultaneously enhance the Qualls experience.

BAD BASKETBALL

Day one featured an enduring image for the ages, five one point games, and some entertaining upsets. Day two favored the favorites. Both days highlighted bad basketball.

I have watched far more professional basketball than college basketball this season, and bad basketball is the reason. It is logical that professional basketball is better than college basketball, but it really feels as though the gulf is widening. Much blame will fall on the disruption of the one and done rule, but this is baseless nonsense. Kentucky and Duke with a fair share of one and done candidates offer some of the best basketball we will see this March. Many other mid major teams that have risen in prominence like Gonzaga, Butler, and Virginia have veteran rosters undisturbed by the one and done rule.

In watching games, I see bad spacing, bad ball movement and bad decisions. It is stunning how many times teams will not throw the ball into the heart of a zone defense to break it down and create good shots. Too often when they do throw the ball there, it is to a player that is visible uncomfortable making a decision with the ball.

In the Harvard/UNC game, UNC trapped the ball near midcourt, and Harvard passed to the screener at the top of the key. There was a 4 v. 3 situation, but the Harvard screener seemed paralyzed holding the ball and returning to the point guard who just passed it to him. UNC easily recovered their defensive shape and swarmed the Crimson into a negative play.

UC Irvine had a chance to tie against Louisville, but dribbled into a sideline trap and turned it over without a shot attempt.

Valpo ran a high ball screen much of the second half of their game, but there was little to no movement or spacing off the screen action. Most teams are equiped to guard a ball screen action, but it is often the movement outside of the main action that creates the shot, and this seems non-existent in the college game.

It has been, but for a few moments of compelling drama, a tough two days of viewing.

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