Thursday may have started quietly, but since then the tournament has lived up to its billing. In fact, since Thursday, the only disappointing performance this weekend comes courtesy of the weather in Chicago. No joke, the weather the past three days in the Windy City: Thursday, sunny, 50 degrees / Friday, 8 inches of snow / Saturday, sunny, 50 degrees.
I don't have to tell you which day I was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas.
But as everyone knows, the show stops for no one, and this is no exception. Vegas updates galore from Orson and Holly. For the rest of us stuck in civilization, some thoughts on the action as we headed into Sunday's games.
- Has there been any performance in this tournament as impressive as Wisconsin's dismantling of Kansas State? Not only did the Badgers thoroughly frustrate the Wildcats' offense, they did so without any of the junk defenses we've seen most teams throw at KSU to counter Michael Beasley's excellence. Kansas State missed on all 13 of their three point attempts, while Wisconsin hit on 9 of their 22. Ball game.
- Has anyone watched Miami play much this season? I get the feeling a lot of us are flying blind here. I know I've not seen them play more than a half or two this year. I do have some good news on the scouting front: TH from Carolina March knows the ACC as well as anyone I can think of and has emailed me a nice report on UM.
- Speaking of tomorrow's game, I'm positively terrified. Not so much of Miami. I'm just scared of losing, period. Here's the thing for me: if Texas gets to Houston and loses in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, I'll be crushed initially but - once the pain passes - very pleased with this team's season. This year's squad had a chance to play their way to seeding in the Houston Regional. They did it. If we get to Houston and don't win? Fine. We put ourselves in a great position, which is all you can ask. But if we lose tomorrow? One game shy of Houston? After the regular season these guys put together? It's more than I can bear to think about. Let's f*cking win.
- West Virginia was solid today, but more than that, Duke was lousy. There's not even a semblance of an inside game for the Blue Devils. And on the perimeter, Greg Paulus has always struck me as a subpar point guard, though he's been useful this season when he's hitting three pointers. Today (and many times throughout the year) he was no better than JD Lewis: a guy with no ability to break down a defense, an inconsistent outside shot, and average defense. Mike Krzyzewsi does a fine job of recruiting solid players, but the difference makers are lacking more and more each year.
- I don't want to be dismissive of West Virginia, who I thought did a lot well today. Joe Alexander already gets a lot of love, but it takes watching several games to really grasp his talent. He's comfortable on the basketball court in a way that only the best are. I'm officially impressed.
- As someone who doesn't particularly enjoy Gus Johnson and his excessive hypeage, I must say I've grown to appreciate how much better it is to have someone like Johnson call an exciting game than someone like the aging Dick Enberg. Though Enberg is a terrific sportscaster who I respect greatly, his style (controlled, nuanced, Olympian) is disappointing for the big moments in these games. Whereas Johnson is obnoxious for making big moments out of Not Big Moments, Enberg is a letdown for making Big Moments sound like Just Another Play. Go rewatch the Kenton Paulino game winner from 2006 if you need a reminder.
- Andrew and I wondered whether A&M-UCLA had the chance to be the ugliest college basketball game ever played. It's certainly in the running: UCLA missed on 6 of its 18 three-point attempts, while A&M missed on 8 of its 10, as the teams combined for just 102 total points on the evening. The Bruins overcame 14 turnovers in the game by limiting the Aggies to just 20 second half points, just enough to pull out the win. UCLA now awaits the winner of Western Kentucky-San Diego, with a potential Elite Eight match up against Xavier or West Virginia.
- Finally, a note on Andrew and I's picks competition, which I look forward to every year. I've shifted my methodology over the years, from looking at the lines and making picks, to making picks with no knowledge of the line. If you believe, as I do, that thinking about the line itself has a psychological effect on how you view the match up, there's some benefit to steering clear of Vegas' line. It's generally served me well, but today provided an excellent lesson in its limitations. When I sat down at the computer Saturday afternoon and looked at the picks I'd relayed to Andrew Friday night (with no knowledge of the lines), I immediately wished I'd had a chance to weigh several of my picks against the actual spread:
--Seeing the Duke line at (-3.5), I was disappointed not to be on the other side of that game. I thought Duke might win a close one (69-65 was my pick), but if I'd been armed with the line at my disposal, I'd have revised that to 68-65 and taken the points.
--I picked Wisconsin to win by 4 last night, thinking the line would be tight. I thought KSU would be a sexy pick among bettors and expected a tighter line than what we got. Hard to say in hindsight, but I wonder whether I'd have bumped my pick up to Wisconsin by 5+ had I seen the line.
--Seeing the Kansas line, I regretted not giving them more credit in my pick. I thought UNLV's strong guard play would help them cover, but I feel dumb for selling the Jayhawks short in this one.
--Lessons? I like the idea of making picks without knowledge of the line, but today hammered home a complementary point: looking at the line after making your picks (with an open mind to revise) ain't a bad idea, either. Especially where your own pick is right on the border with the Vegas line, it can be useful in helping you decide which side you want to be on.
- Speaking of picks, as expected, Andrew's roared back into this thing, riding an outstanding 7-1 Saturday to pull within a game of me Against The Spread.
PB [23-17] / AW [22-18]
PB [28-12] / AW [30-10]
PB [22-16-2] / AW [24-14-2]