March 18, 2005
Round 1, Day 1
That's how long you have to wait before you can decide whether a team has a chance of being upset or not. Illinois, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, and Washington were all in very tight ball games for the first half, but pulled away as they got into the middle portions of the second half. The reason? I'm not sure, but I think it has to do with two things. One, the two teams have never seen each other, and the underdog probably has a gameplan specifically designed to try and beat the team they're playing. Example: Fairleigh-Dickerson (from here out referred to as FD) They came out and crashed the boards with all five guys, out rebounding Illinois by a large margin. This forced Illinois to send more guys to rebound, negating their fast break opportunities, not a bad idea. It takes the favorite some time to find a way to counter the game plan. In my example, Illinois finally began to box out and get some rebounds of their own. They had to give up some of their transistion game in order to keep FD off the boards. The second reson for the underdogs staying close: When a team is a huge favorite in a lose-and-go-home scenario, there's a lot of pressure to win. I'm sure anyone that watches any basketball at all has heard that coming into today, the 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament are a combined 0-80 (0-82 now). Noone wants to be the first number one seed to lose in the first round. Noone. Thus, teams come out tight and anxious and play not to lose instead of playing to win. After a while, the coach settles them down and they take care of business.
It turns out that the SEC did have a down year.
Apparantly, all the doubters of the SEC back in January were right. The SEC did appear to be fairly weak. I've always held that the middle of the pack teams from power conferences will usually have their hands full with the top teams from from smaller conferences, but Alabama won the SEC west division, and was the number 2 seed in their conference tournament. They, however, were no match for the champions of the horizon league. The other team that lost today, LSU, simply was no match for UAB. Apparantly, as soon as you pressed LSU, they folded faster than a card house in a hurricane. Maybe this will get the selection committee to stop letting power conference teams hide behind their conference name and get seeded higher than they deserve.
It also turns out that I'm not the only one that would rather see more teams from non-power conferences:
"As heartbroken as we are now, we had our one shining moment getting here and playing in the tournament. We don't need another .500 Big 12 or ACC team in the tournament. We need more Niagaras."
-Niagara coach Joe Mihalich
Illinois report card (everyone else gives report cards, why can't I?)
Outside: C       Illinois's guards couldn't hit a shot to save their lives in the first half. They shot a lot better the second half, but overall, they still looked decidedly ordinary.
Inside: B       It took a bit, but Augustine finally began to assert himself in the rebounding department. He's probably the most consistent producer on the team. Jack Ingram played a pretty good ballgame around the 7-footer FD had inside. Nick Smith, on the other hand, is placing himself firmly in my doghouse. He's now less-than-affectionately known as "clod-hopper" in our house for his less than stellar athleticism.
Upstairs: B-       Illinois came out just going through the motions. Whether it was from the late start of the game, the pressure of not wanting to lose to a 16 seed, or lingering emotional hangover from last week, they were not ready to play. Luckily, Weber got fired up for them and got them back on the right path. In the end, they kept their composure and pulled it out.
Overall: C+       If they play like that again, they may not be playing come next week.
On a slightly more happy note, I was 12 for 16 picking games today for 75%. Of the games I missed I had considered 3 coin tosses (Nevada, West Virginia, Iowa) but LSU losing caught me by surprise. I thought they were going to take UAB. That's the last time I trust the "experts" to tell me a team is good if I haven't seen them play.
Apparantly, I really don't have a life because between the hours of 12pm and 10pm I was off of the couch for approximately 120 minutes(for 90 of those minutes there was no basketball to watch) for a few moments of being constructive and dinner. That means I watched basketball for approximately eight hours today (albeit 2 hours were spent watching through my eyelids) I could get used to this ;)