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NCAA Tournament Teams Dance to Predictable Rhythm So Far

The first four days of the NCAA Tournament brought a few upsets (Liberty, UC Irvine), buzzer-beaters (LSU over Maryland), and ultra-competitive contests like the mountain-scaling comeback from Iowa, only to see the Hawkeyes fade in overtime against 2-seed Tennessee. A mere 15 games remain in this college basketball season that began with the hopes and dreams of 353 D-1 programs across the land.

The Sweet 16 match-ups begin in the West Region as (4) Florida State faces (1) Gonzaga at 7:09ET on Thursday evening. Here are a few random musings on the NCAA Tournament as we trek towards this week’s games.

Party crashers no more. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, there’s an interesting article spotlighting a statistic that “the probability of every top-three seed making it past the first weekend was 0.9%” and that, essentially, this year’s Tournament has been remarkable in its normalcy compared to the Madness that often ensues. The article notes that the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is about the Davids, while the Sweet 16 forward is about the Goliaths and posits that with most of the favorites advancing, the NCAA Tournament is better for it.

I admittedly carry some non-Power conference bias, but I’m not sure George Mason, VCU and Butler would agree, nor would the legions of viewers taken on wonderful pumpkin carriage rides through the years. On the flip side, I’d imagine corporate folks – like many WSJ readers for instance – prefer the big boys making it to the second weekend.

Let’s take the Duke v. UCF game for example. I’m not anti-Zion or anti-Duke – and they deserve credit for staying rock solid under pressure to snare a victory against UCF. But I feel for the Knights, a collection of players that have grown and developed to arrive at a point where they had Goliath on the ropes. A team that will lose firepower year-over-year and will be hard-pressed to repeat this type of season in short order. Duke, on the other hand, will settle on the next class of All-Americans it deems worthy of donning the blue, rinse and repeat. UCF will need to go brick-by-brick and hope for some good fortune in the coming campaigns.

I’m all for elite competition and entertaining games over the final two weekends, but I’d be more excited – whether UCF or another David – if that 0.9% didn’t hold in 2019.

Rapid fire impressions on the first weekend; and this weekend’s favorite match-up…

Most exciting player was Ja Morant of Murray State during the Racers clinic against Marquette. I’m not exactly out on a limb with this one, but it was terrific to witness his blend of explosiveness, confidence and leadership on the biggest stage.

I’m happy for… The LSU Tigers. Say what you will about Will Wade and the precarious position he finds himself in, but the kids playing for that program are still just that… kids. For them to be able to persevere and experience success hopefully is helping them rediscover some joy from playing the game.

My bracket… is not in tatters. I had Murray State, Liberty, UC Irvine and then a bunch of chalk. Carolina is my pick to cut down the nets, mostly because I didn’t want to tie 48 others who chose Duke in my office pool.

Rough going… for the Atlantic 10 and Big East. VCU was over-matched by UCF, Saint Louis didn’t look like they belonged, Marquette got floor-wiped by Murray State, and Seton Hall & St. John’s made only cameos. Villanova, though, earns a pass for obvious reasons in a reset year for Jay Wright’s team. They’ll be just fine.

Wofford… didn’t upset anyone. They were 30-5, the 7-seed, and did what they were supposed to do — advance. Despite his 0-12 shooting in the second round game, Fletcher Magee has one of the quickest releases I’ve ever seen… and did set the D-1 record for career threes made in game one. Terrific season overall by the Terriers.

The game this week I’m most looking forward to is… The battle of the cats – Cougars versus Wildcats. Friday night’s Midwest tilt between (3) Houston and (2) Kentucky. Corey Davis and the Cougars are into the Sweet 16 for the first time in 35 years and with site lines on extending a truly special season that currently has them at 33-3. Calipari’s Wildcats have done a tremendous job taking away primary scoring options. Both teams defend their tails off so the game is likely to be won by the squad that values the ball best and wins on the backboards.

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