With March Madness in high gear heading into the Sweet Sixteen, Mid-Week Madness remains on a mini-hiatus. Even with that, though, some mid-week observations about the Madness seem worthwhile.
That being the case, enjoy or despise at your leisure …
– It’s time to close the book on Gonzaga’s Cinderella story. Year after year, we keep trying to shoehorn that glass slipper on the Bulldogs’ foot. Ladies and gentleman, after 14 years of trying, it does … not … fit. We need to accept that and move on, and, if by chance, Gonzaga finally does do something major in the NCAA tournament, like, oh, say, reach the Final Four, kudos to it. Until then, enough already …
– Sticking with the aforementioned, why in the world did coach Mark Few anoint this group as the best during his reign at the small, Catholic school in Spokane? Rankings and newer-found respect aside, it wasn’t. All his words did was draw a bigger bull’s-eye on his team’s jersey, which, frankly, a good portion of the nation is sick of seeing and hearing about at this point anyway because it bombs in the NCAAs.
– The big boys from the BCS conferences struggled early, but their depth – both in the amount of teams sent to the Big Dance and within those individual teams – showed in the Round of 32 as the Big Ten (4), Big East (3), ACC (2) and Pac-12 (2) combined to earn 11 of the available slots for this coming weekend. The SEC and Big 12 bump that number up to 13 for the major conferences.
– Not sure why anyone would be surprised, or upset, that Ben Howland was let go at UCLA after the Bruins got bounced in their first game, losing to 11-seed Minnesota. Sure, he took the Bruins to the Final Four three straight seasons (2006-08), but they’ve trailed off since and haven’t exactly been a household name across the country. Over 10 years, his “average” season was 23-10. Good, not great. In this day and age, schools who think they’re “all that” want more … much more.
– Even less sure why anyone would be surprised, or upset, that Tubby Smith was let go by Minnesota after his Gophers went down following the next round. He’s a coach where the “great” label gets tossed around a little too loosely. Yes, he won a national title – in his first year at Kentucky, with players Rick Pitino left for him. In general, he seems to be more a caretaker coach, or a fixer-upper coach who can only get his team so far. He’s stabilized things at Minnesota, but the Gophers never finished with a winning record in the Big Ten in his six seasons.
– National media, in general, should be embarrassed at itself that it was so oblivious to Temple guard Khalif Wyatt’s game while relentlessly promoting others. Thus far, he has the top two scoring games in the tournament – tallying 31 against N.C. State in Round 2 and 31 against Indiana in Round 3. He is a first-team All-America player. He just won’t receive the honor. Players from the remaining field have four more rounds to oust him from the top of that leaderboard.
– Florida Gulf Coast is the hands-down front-runner for “story of the tournament” status up to now. It doesn’t even really merit the same “mid-major” status fellow Sweet Sixteen underdogs La Salle and Wichita State do, joining the Division I ranks just in 2007-08. But are the Eagles that big a shock now? They beat Miami this season, and their talent level was quite obvious against Georgetown and San Diego State. Vegas, though, has them as double-digit underdogs when facing Florida.
– To the geniuses trying to be cute with pointing out how La Salle’s run is so far removed from prior success that the last time the school went this distance the Sweet Sixteen didn’t exist, be more diligent in your research or a little more clear in your wording. No, the label “Sweet Sixteen” didn’t exist when La Salle was playing in back-to-back title games in 1954-55 behind the legendary Tom Gola, but the round of 16 did. The NCAA tourney started in 1939 with 8 teams, went to 16 in 1951, 22 in 1953 and 24 in 1954.
– With Wichita State and the Explorers squaring off Thursday night in Los Angeles, we are guaranteed at least one mid-major reaching the Elite Eight this season. Considering the Atlantic Ten, La Salle’s league, sent five teams to the tourney, and the Mountain West, which, amazingly, was ranked the No. 1 conference in the country by RPI standards, sent another five, that’s not exactly a whopping revelation. If anything, the mid-majors underachieved this season, Gonzaga lowlighting the effort.
– Oregon has been the most impressive team in the tourney, seeming to take umbrage with the selection committee slotting it a 12-seed in the Midwest. The Ducks, who won the Pac-12 tournament, have dismantled 5-seed Oklahoma State and 4-seed Saint Louis, making both look quite pedestrian in the process. Not they get the No. 1 overall seed in Louisville. That could be interesting.
– Only the East region has held to chalk, with all four seeds making the regional semis: Indiana, Miami, Marquette and Syracuse. That actually sounds like a really good Final Four. The Midwest has a 12 infiltrating the mix, the South a 15 and the West is just all kinds of crazy with only 2-seed Ohio State among the favorites to make it through.
– Kansas hasn’t been lights out so far as No. 1 seeds go, but center Jeff Withey has been the most impressive of the allowable first-team All-America candidates up to this point. The big fella posted 17 points, 6 rebounds and 7 blocks against Western Kentucky, then went 16-16-5 vs. North Carolina. He is a much better player than he was last year for the Jayhawks, who seem to be forgotten as a finalist last season.
– If you want some more nail-biting action, any game involving Marquette would seem the best choice. The Golden Eagles have won two … by a combined three points. La Salle hasn’t been far behind there with back-to-back, two-point victories. With Marquette a 3-seed taking on 2-seed Miami, its close encounters figure to continue. The Explorers? Hmmm, tough to tell, especially with their next opponent, Wichita State, also a Sweet Sixteen prize and fresh off a pep talk from Tim Tebow.