Things We Love About March Madness
The NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Championships are underway, and so far, they haven't disappointed.
The thins we love about March Madness have all been on display the last few days: huge upsets, sleaze ball coaches getting their comeuppance, amazing individual performances, officiating controversies, crazy endings.
Some of the highlights to date:
St. Peter's 85, Kentucky 79: Every tournament has a Cinderella, and this year it's No. 15 seed St. Peter's University, a school with 2300 students from my old stomping grounds, Jersey City, NJ.
In the first round the Peacocks stunned No. 2 seed Kentucky, a team loaded with NBA prospects, in overtime. It gave new meaning to the term "one and done", as the infamous John Calipari ("Coach Cal"), the second highest paid coach in college basketball after Duke's Coach K, was humiliated. So delicious.
Then in the second round St. Peter's ended Murray State's 21-game winning streak and became only the third No. 15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16.
Pearl Pummeled: Also great to see Bruce Pearl, perhaps the biggest cheater in college basketball (now that Will Wade has finally been fired by LSU), go down yesterday when No. 10 Miami upset No. 2 Auburn 79-61. Afterward, Pearl's top player, Jabari Smith, was discussing whether he was going to leave Auburn for the NBA, where he's projected as one of the top picks.
"I feel like if I had to make a decision a thousand more times, I wouldn't choose nowhere else but Auburn," he said.
Obviously, Smith has spent a lot of time in the classroom.
More Upsets: No. 11 seed Iowa State, a team that went 2-22 last year, upset No. 6 LSU and No. 3 Wisconsin to reach the Sweet 16.
Tough Weekend for Baylor: The Bears' No. 1 seeded men's team was upset by No. 8 North Carolina in overtime, after coming back from a 25-point deficit to tie the game in regulation, and the No. 2 seeded women were upset by South Dakota.
Tough Draw: Arizona survived in overtime against TCU, but now must face a very tough and talented Houston team in the Sweet 16, coached by another serial cheater, Kelvin Sampson.
Bruins' Are Back: UCLA, which went from the first four to the Final Four last year, used a stifling defense to turn away St. Mary's. Now the Bruins face North Carolina, coming off their big win over Baylor, and they may have to do it without Jaime Jaquez Jr., who sprained his ankle in the final minutes of his sensational performance against St. Mary's.
OT Epidemic: We've already had six overtime games in the men's tourney. The all-time record is seven.
Transfer Epidemic: Miami guard Charlie Moore, who sank the winning free throws to beat USC, has played for four different schools--Cal, Kansas, DePaul and now Miami. Remember the good ol' days when a player stuck around the same school and played four years? No mas.
Fran Belibi's Dunk: In one of the most impressive plays you'll ever see, during Fridays game against Montana State, Stanford forward Fran Belibi blocked a shot, grabbed the ball out of the air, drove the length of the court, and slammed it home. The reaction of the players on the Stanford bench was almost as good as the play itself.
Hull's Heroics: Readers of this blog know we're huge fans of Stanford's Lexie Hull. While Haley Jones and Cameron Brink deservedly get the headlines, Hull is the heart and soul of the team with her attacking offense, brilliant ball-hawking defense and all-out, ferocious competitiveness.
Sunday night Hull provided one of the greatest performances I've seen in college basketball to lead Stanford past a tougher-than-expected Kansas team. The Cardinal was only up two at the half, before exploding in the third quarter behind Hull's 15 points to win going away, 91-65. Hull ended the night with 36 points, six rebounds, seven steals, and at least 10 floor burns.
Tara's Pledge: Stanford's iconic women's coach Tara VanDerveer is once again showing why she is the class of her profession. VanDerveer has pledged a $10 donation to Ukraine relief for every three-pointer made in the women's tournament. Not just by her team...by any team. Estimates vary, but Tara will probably be writing a check for several thousand dollars.
Home Alone: Speaking of Stanford, switching to the men now, the Cardinal stayed home once again. Six straight years without making it to the NCAA tourney under coach Jerod Haase who, inexplicably, has been retained by the Stanford administration. The statement from Athletic Director Bernard Muir announcing Haase's return, citing the "strong nucleus" of players Haase has recruited, was more of an indictment than a defense.
How do you recruit one of the top 20 classes in the country for three of the past four years, but can't field one of the top 68 teams in the country?
Answer: the team isn't well-coached, high-level recruits aren't being developed, and some players don't stick around. A few days ago one of Haase's former top recruits, Cormac Ryan, scored 29 points to lead Notre Dame to an upset win over Alabama.
Meanwhile, a terrific candidate to replace Haase, Todd Golden, just up the road at USF, was snatched away by the University of Florida.
Is anyone in the President's office or Provost's office paying attention to what is happening in men's basketball?