I'm sure some of you are wondering how my bracket looks. That would require me looking at it. And if I'm not looking at mine, that should tell you just how much I care about yours.
Yes, mine looks just that bad. Now, let's talk about something else ... like some of the reasons my bracket has more stray red marks than those Garanimal print shorts Cincinnati wore Sunday night.
At least one made-for-TV matchup survived the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Looking ahead to the Sweet 16 matchups, no game is more intriguing than Kentucky-Indiana. It’s a great regional, non-conference rivalry, and it’s a rematch of the Wildcats’ only regular season loss. It’s also a huge contest for two teams in different stages of rebuilding. With a win, Tom Crean and the Hoosiers will bring their storied program optimism unseen in Bloomington in 20 years. It would also leave John Calipari to explain how his microwave dynasty got passed by a program which lost 20 games three straight years. But remember everything that had to happen for Indiana to win on a buzzer-beater in December -- the Hoosiers shot 60 percent from three-point range, Kentucky shot 52 percent from the free throw line, and foul trouble limited Anthony Davis to six points in 24 minutes. All this happened in front of one of the rowdiest crowds at Assembly Hall in recent memory. Look for Kentucky to win big in from of an overwhelmingly partial Atlanta crowd.
The Midwest can be renamed "The Jayhawk Invitational." Purdue-Kansas was shaping up to be another Bill Self classic -- and I don’t mean that in a good way -- but the Jayhawks held off the Boilermakers and head to St. Louis with the clearest road to the Final Four of any remaining team. They’ll be less than 300 miles from campus, playing 11-seed NC State for the chance to face the winner of Ohio and North Carolina, which likely won't have Kendall Marshall. No one’s confusing this Kansas team with the ‘08 champions, or even last year’s team that lost to VCU in the Elite Eight. But from the looks of things, the only thing that can keep them from New Orleans will be themselves, which history tells us could be enough to ruin everything.
Prepare for the most counterintuitive matchup of the Tournament. It won't get more ironic than seeing Syracuse and its roster of great athletes face Wisconsin's collection of unheralded recruits Thursday night. The Orange will be in its trademark zone, while the Badgers will rely on their intense man-to-man defense. Many refute my "zone is for cowards" argument by touting Syracuse's effectiveness. Just remember this -- a zone penalizes teams for being impatient and undisciplined. Has either term ever applied to Bo Ryan's bunch? Can any team afford to squander chances to take possession by losing out on defensive rebounds and expect to beat Wisconsin? This is the time of year when Syracuse's luck usually runs out, and the regional semifinal will be a closer game than many expect.
Another year, another Duke flameout, and the same old questions. There's a danger in taking too much from a team's worst performance in years, but it's hard not to look back at the last 10 years of Duke basketball in the wake of the Blue Devils' shocking second round loss to Lehigh. The 2010 national champions and the ‘04 team that made the Final Four are Mike Krzyzewski's only teams to make the Elite Eight since 2002. After losing to VCU in ‘07, being totally dominated by Villanova in ‘09 and blown off the floor by Arizona last year, losing to a 15-seed makes the fourth time in six years Duke's season ended in an embarrassing fashion. The problem this season was the same as it's been in so many since Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy left campus -- the Devils simply didn't have enough talent. Krzyzewski's masterful coaching can overcome that from November through February, but March is a different beast. No matter how many more 25-win seasons Duke puts up, they will remain a step below the nation's elite. And until they overhaul how they recruit, evaluate and/or develop talent, the title from two years ago will look like as much of an aberration as North Carolina's 17 losses that same season. It's two years later, and both teams have moved on like nothing ever happened.
The sad case of Jamar Samuels. The one thing about the NCAA everyone loves is its tournament, but the organization’s detestable side was on display when Kansas State’s Samuels missed Saturday’s loss to Syracuse because of eligibility concerns. Samuels’ AAU coach wired him $200 March 11 and said, [t]he kid's family doesn't have anything and he called me for money to eat." K-State had little choice but to sit him, just as it would be silly to expect Malone to tell a player he’s known for years to simply suck it up. But as long as the NCAA continues to run TV spots about how many of its players will go pro in "something else," it may want to consider what could be so nefarious about Samuels, one of the kids who won’t play in the NBA, receiving such a small sum. Preventing Samuels from getting that money wouldn’t protect the integrity of college basketball. It would only keep Samuels broke and hungry, and it’s hard to ignore the possibility that’s how the NCAA wants things to be.
Alex Smith calls his own number. Know what must be the worst part of being a No. 1 pick-turned-steady NFL quarterback? Being low on your agents’ list of priorities. That seems to be Alex Smith’s predicament. He’s represented by Tom Condon, who’s been busy running a clinic on media manipulation in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. He’s also got Manning talking to the 49ers about a job that was Smith’s in the NFC Championship Game just a month and a half ago. So yeah, talking to the Dolphins is a smart move. So is thinking about getting a new agent. As for Miami: if you get your fans excited about Manning, but come back with Smith, you probably should save some money and stick with Matt Moore.
Don’t forget -- rich people aren’t shy about suing. Given that neither the Redskins nor Cowboys have expressed any contrition about their spending in the uncapped year of 2010, we can’t ignore Mike Florio’s report that both teams might "go nuclear" over the whole situation. It would be fascinating if it happened. Since Roger Goodell became commissioner, he’s operated with the power and impunity the NFL hadn’t seen since Al Davis took Pete Rozelle down in court when he moved the Raiders to Los Angeles. Now, Jones -- who has long cited Davis as an influence and mentor -- and Snyder could take on the league in a case that could get messy. While I’m not a lawyer, it seems impossible for the NFL to refute Snyder and Jones’ claims without explicitly saying the league colluded to circumvent the intentions of the previous collective bargaining agreement. The uncapped year was supposed to encourage owners to negotiate; otherwise, they’d have to worry about teams doing things like...dumping salary into the uncapped year. By colluding, that was never a threat, and the owners never had to seriously consider negotiating until the 11th hour. Think the league wants that to turn up in depositions, after this lockout wasted the time of players, owners and federal judges and arbitrators? Then maybe they should call bygones on 2010, because both Snyder and Jones are crazy and entitled enough to put everyone’s business in the street.
Bet you Brandon Lloyd won’t complain about his quarterback now. Lloyd was never on board with the Tebow experiement. Now? He’ll be catching passes from one of the best quarterbacks in the league and, suddenly, Tom Brady has the deep threat the Patriots have lacked since they traded Randy Moss to Minnesota. The Pats' biggest problems are still on defense, but a receiver to stretch the field may have been enough to give Brady and Belichick their fourth Super Bowl rings. Add this to the fact Peyton Manning will not become a Miami Dolphin, and the pace-setter of the AFC East just got another leg up on its competition. And though he’s the top receiver on the free agent market, New England got Lloyd for a decent price. They always get ‘em for the cheap.
Will Woodsanity strike the Big Apple? Of course, it's too early to go overboard singing the praises of a coach few thought too much of at his last job. However, home-and-away wins against Indiana, along with Wednesday's destruction of the Blazers, comprise the Knicks' best three-game stretch of the season. Plus, the idea of a coach who plans to work his offense around his best players should be exciting to Knicks fans who have been disappointed since the arrival of "hometown hero" Carmelo Anthony last February. A spike in energy is expected when a new coach comes in. It will be a while before we know if it can be sustained.
Hats off to Norfolk State. Getting smacked by Florida would give the impression Norfolk State simply returned to Earth, but their second-round victory over Missouri was no fluke. The Spartans had 6'9 Kyle O'Quinn, for whom undersized Mizzou -- a poor defensive team all year -- had no answer. Check the box score. NSU simply outplayed Missouri. And at this time of year, when America roots for the underdog like no other time, Norfolk State slaying the Philistine merits extra attention. At this time of year, the champions from the SWAC and MEAC are backed by not only their fans and alums, but those of all historically black colleges and universities across the country. It is not simply about race or cultural commonality. It is primarily about a gratitude and reverence for the missions and accomplishments of HBCUs throughout their histories. They are the products of exclusion that never themselves excluded. They produced some of the most important and productive citizens of this country when they were otherwise ignored (if they were lucky). While consistently being underfunded and underestimated, the black college has made the American Dream realistic to millions who otherwise have far less to believe in. If ever a win was metaphorical, it was this one. So, on behalf of the millions that owe much of their livelihoods and happiness to America's black colleges: Congratulations to the Norfolk State Spartans. You've made millions proud.
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