March Madness
by Jim Alderson, 3/23/04

All right, let’s have a show of hands: who had UAB beating Kentucky in their brackets? Anybody? I didn’t think so. My St. Louis bracket sure got shredded. I had Kentucky as a Final Four participant and figured the Blazers would not make it past the first round. That shows how much I know. I did have Gonzaga beaten in the second round, but not by Nevada. I’m still trying to determine exactly what possessed me to award a Sweet Sixteen spot to those Michigan State dogs.

And so it goes in the NCAA tournament, that annual exercise in organized mayhem that makes fools out of me and a lot of other hoopheads who like to think they know a thing or two about basketball. Forty-eight games in four days have reduced the field by three-quarters and my eyesight to the distance between my recliner and television. Isn’t this fun?

As usual, Tech is not a participant, at least on the men’s side. Bonnie’s team seemed to do well in their opener in the women’s tournament, although their spanking of Iowa was about the only college basketball game this weekend that it completely slipped my mind to watch. Sorry, ladies. As Tech’s women’s team prepares for Penn State and a possible reward of a trip to Hartford for one final shot at UConn, I notice that they now hold the distinction of being the only team from the state of Virginia still playing in any tournament. That certainly speaks volumes about our status as a basketball state. The state’s three entrants in the men’s tournament were quickly all bounced in the first round, although VCU didn’t leave without putting up quite a fight, while Richmond played well before succumbing to superior numbers.

With our state out, basketball attention is mostly focused on Seth Greenberg’s continuing search for something closely resembling an ACC inside game, how fast new coaching wunderkind Jeff Capel will escape Grace Street, and the Pete Gillen Death Watch.

I notice that 3/8 of the men’s survivors come from our future conference and our future former one. Both the ACC and Big East contributed three, half of each league’s initial allotment. Of the Big East teams, Providence was bounced early by somebody called Pacific. The Kemper Arena must have looked a lot like Cassell Coliseum, considering how the Friars stunk it up in losing to a 12 seed.

Seton Hall and Boston College at least made it to the second round. The Pirates lasted until around the time Duke took the floor while Fredo got an early start on losing to ACC teams, dropping a tough game to Georgia Tech.

The BE’s winners were Pitt, UConn and Syracuse. The Panthers survived a bruising battle with Wisconsin and now face what will be likely be another one against an Oklahoma State team that can match the physical style of play favored by Pitt. That should be a fun game to watch. Pitt has outstanding guard play which means a lot this time of year, but the suspicion remains that eventually they will run up against a set of referees from a finesse conference, such as the vanished PAC 10, that will officiate a bit differently than BE refs, who do not call fouls unless the x-rays show a bone was actually broken. A group that likes to call touch fouls would quickly have Pitt out of the show.

Syracuse continues to demonstrate that there is a little more to them than Carmelo Anthony. They are a tournament-tested bunch that knows both how to win these things and make me look stupid picking Maryland to beat them.

I very much admire Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut program and enjoy watching their style of play. It remains to be seen whether they can win it all without riding on the injured back of Emeka Okafor, but in Ben Gordon and Taliek Brown they have the backcourt. I like the BE’s chances in this weekend’s BE-SEC showdown in the Phoenix Regional. Of the remaining BE teams, two are also members of the LEFC and the third, UConn, will join them next year. The football schools continue to carry the basketball ones in that league, a situation that has caused a few problems, to put it mildly.

In the ACC, all six NCAA teams made it through the first round before things came to a screeching halt for half of them. Duke showed that they were pretty ticked about the ACC tournament final by laying waste to any team unlucky enough to have been placed in their bracket. How long Duke’s season continues hinges largely on the tender ribs of Chris Duhon. This Duke team is a shell of the ones that captured back-to-back NCAA titles in '91-'92 or even the '01 champion; no program has been hit harder by the trend of early defections to the NBA. But they are still plenty good and have the most dominant coach in the game since John Wooden called it a career.

Wake Forest stumbled through the end of the regular season and the ACC tournament and sneaked out of Raleigh with close wins over inferior opposition. Next up for the Deacons is St. Joseph’s. The battle between guards Chris Paul and Jameer Nelson should be something to see. My opinion is that Wake’s inside game will be too much for the stiffs that man the low post for Phil Martelli, but I also thought Michigan State would make it to St. Louis and Mississippi State to Atlanta, so what do I know?

Georgia Tech is the third ACC team to advance past the opening weekend, and Paul Hewitt has got to be feeling pretty good about his chances in a St. Louis regional that has lost its top two seeds.

Of the ACC losers, Maryland finally ran out of gas after their surprising run through the ACC tournament, a sterling effort that caused me to pick them to beat Syracuse. So much for the springboard effect. North Carolina coach Roy Williams had spent a good part of the season bemoaning his team’s lackluster defensive efforts. The marked disinclination of the Tar Heels to play anything remotely resembling quality defense finally caught up with them, and they were sent home by Texas. As Rashad McCants salivates over NBA millions he should be advised that it only looks like they don’t play defense in the pros.

Finally, there was NC State. The Wolfpack looked to have their second-round game against Vanderbilt in hand, holding a double-digit lead late. That was before State coach Herb Sendek employed the ‘commit stupid fouls’ strategy that cost them their best player, Julius Hodge and sent Vandy players time after time to the free-throw line with three foul shots. Yes, the intentional foul was a terrible call but all the really stupid ones, fouling three-point shooters, were not. Allowing the other guys to repeatedly bag three points at a time while the clock is stopped is not exactly how you hold onto a lead. The general air of disorganization displayed by the Wolfpack late in the game should have those ‘Fire Herb’ Web sites back with a vengeance.

And so we take a few days to catch our breath and watch the Tech women before the basketball wars resume in earnest Thursday night. Three of the Final Four teams I had picked are still alive, Duke, UConn and Oklahoma State. I say Georgia Tech joins them. Back to the games.

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