By Ron Borges
After a predictable start, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament went berserk, which is why they call it March Madness, isn’t it? Whether the “madness’’ relates to so many incredibly close games and the annual string of upsets or to the ire of people tearing up their brackets from coast to coast is debatable but either way it creates perhaps the most exciting three weekends in college sports.
Why the idiots who run NCAA Division 1 football haven’t yet figured out what a similar set of showdowns would do for the college game is beyond the capability of anyone but a CPA to understand because, let’s face it, it’s always about the money so they must figure they’re making more at the Meineke-FritoLay-UPS Potato Bowl game than they’;d get from a potential national championship series.
Yet that’s impossible to believe when one thinks of the hysteria a college “Super Bowl’’ game would engender, not to mention the sponsorship money for a month’s worth of bowls leading up to it. That is, by the way, a large part of what fuels the hysteria engendered by the Road to the Final Four, as those endless ads prove at every time out.
The more interesting point is that road turned bumpy by the weekend with Davidson overcoming a 17-point deficit to send highly-regarded Georgetown packing on a weekend that also saw Drake and Marquette beaten in overtime and Duke, Vanderbilt, U.S.C. and UConn upset as well. What that has wrought on my bracket is not a Sweet Sixteen but a Tremulous Ten. Only problem there is that left me with only one team standing in the Midwest Regional. Fortunately that team is Kansas, so let’s save some time and put them in my Elite Eight and then take a look around at what else is left.
My bracket came up perfect in the East with North Carolina vs. Washington State and Tennessee vs. Louisville and in the South I hit on three quarters of the bracket with Memphis, Stanford and Texas all still alive.
The West was a 50 per cent survival rate but only barely as UCLA dodged a bullet against Texas A&M while Xavier had an easier road to the Sweet 16 and now a showdown with Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team. Had I gone with my gut instinct, which was to take the Mountaineers over Duke, things would be much better bracketwise but, alas, I blinked and so did the Blue Devils. So it goes.
So here are my 10 remaining teams in the Sweet 16 as well as which ones move on to the Elite Eight and then, finally, on to the Final Four two weekend’s hence in San Antonio, the town that did in Daniel Boone, Sam Houston and more than a few other American heroes at the Alamo.
DEAD MEN (VILLANOVA BUT I HAD VANDY)
DEADMEN (WISCONSIN WHEN I HAD USC)
DEAD MEN (DAVIDISON WHEN I HAD GEORGETOWN)
The upside of this situation is it takes it a no brainer to pick Kansas to reach the Final Four since I have no other horse in the race.
DEAD MEN (I went for Pitt’s tough defense and they were slapped around by Michigan State, which isn’t all that much of an upset. More of a difference of opinion.)
DEAD MEN (I tipped Drake but they couldn’t even get out of the first round against this year’s pending Cinderfellas, the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. Go Jim McDaniels!).
DEAD MEN (This is the one that hurts as the urge was there to take West Virginia over Duke but the resolve was not. One pays dearly for being faint of heart this time of year).
So who gets to the Elite Eight?
NORTH CAROLINA AND TENNESSEE, which makes for a marvelous Regional final showdown between two teams that have already butted heads. The near loss to Butler was the kind of warning shot the Volunteers needed to avoid being run out of the building by Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals. North Carolina is facing a tough team in fourth-seeded Washington State (how about that 1,2,3,4 seeds in the East survive the first weekend?) but not tough enough to send the Tar Heels back to Tobacco Road.
KANSAS AND DAVIDSON - : Thus ends a near-Cinderfella run to the Final Four for a Davidson team powered by one kid, Stephen Curry, who had 70 points in his first two tournament games with 52 of them coming in the second half. That’s clutch shooting from the son of former NBA jump shooter Dell Curry. He may shoot the lights out again but he won’t shoot Kansas out of the tournament.
MEMPHIS AND TEXAS – This was another well-seeded bracket with the 1, 2, 3 and 5 teams surviving to the final regional weekend. Memphis and Texas (1 and 2) should be a tremendous showdown and a great test for John Calipari’s team in the Regional final. Memphis makes me nervous in two areas – any time they’re on defense and nearly any time they’re at the foul line. Worse, they have to get by a tough Michigan State team first that beat in Pitt a team that plays a style similar to Memphis State’s approach to the game. Texas is also in tough against Stanford and the Lopez twins but their size, speed and the fact they’re playing a lot closer to home in Houston makes me think the Trees will wither.
UCLA AND XAVIER – Since I don’t have Western Kentucky or West Virginia still alive there’s no other direction to take. Both UCLA and Xavier are reasonable expectations for the Elite Eight. This is especially true of UCLA because of the way it plays defense, which is the end of the floor that seldom fails you and is easier to maintain.
So then what?
MEMPHIS VS. UCLA
KANSAS VS. NORTH CAROLINA.
That’s an incredible four No. 1 seeds surviving all the way from the start of the tournament to the semi-final round. Could Texas, Stanford, Michigan State, West Virginia, Tennessee or Louisville change all that? Yes. Will they? Nobody really knows, which is why it’s March madness to get involved in making these selections in the first place.
Then again, it’s fun too which is what we sometimes forget sports is supposed to be even when it’s also a multi-million dollar business like the Road to the Final Four.