We’re just 16 games into the tourney but there’s already been some headlines. Here’s the biggest.
5) Pressure bursts tourney pipes. These aren’t professionals. The vast majority will never play beyond college. And while NIL deals have infused legal payments into the sport, they are still young adults, after all. So watching these players lose their minds, nervously blow a gasket, and have brain malfunctions creates the beautiful chaos. Instead of taking a timeout, Virginia hoisted the ball in the air (and lost because of it). Arizona’s offense fell face first in the final minutes of a tight game. Boise State shot 3-11 with 2 turnovers as the game wound down. Kids doing kids stuff is what makes the brackets crazy.
4) There is no tournament without Cinderella. Princeton. Furman. Northern Kentucky. These were the most interesting parts of Thursday’s action. With the NCAA’s constant realignment towards super conferences there’s been talk of the Power 65 holding their own tournament. Worst idea ever. You absolutely need the Ivy Leagues and low-majors in the dance to create intrigue. No one cares if Iowa beats Auburn, but when Iona is leading with 4:00 to play, the world tunes in.
3) Tony Bennett’s skeletons pop up every year. The ’19 national championship is one of the greatest acts of redemption ever, but it’s only because Virginia suffered the most embarrassing loss in tourney history the year earlier. It’s impossible to separate Bennett’s Cavaliers with all of the ignominious upsets. In 2015, the 30-win Cavs (2-seed) got bounced in the round of 32. Three years later, they were the only team ever to lose to a 16-seed as UMBC’s victims. Last year, the 4-seeded Cavs lost to 13-seed Ohio to open the tourney and yesterday it was another 13-seed Furman who pulled the trick. The opening round flameouts are as memorable as the title.
2) Arizona is an annual imposter. I wish I had stopped believing in the Wildcats years ago. Yet again, Arizona looked primed to make a deep run only to short circuit on the opening weekend. This time it was Princeton who bamboozled the Cats, shutting them out for the final 5 minutes, How does a group of future lawyers and financial advisors do it? Follow the annual script of keeping the game close and watching the Cats disintegrate. Perennially the committee rewards them with a west coast site, and the Cats cough it up. In ’15 and ’16, Arizona as a 1 and 2-seed fell to Wisconsin in SoCal. In ’17, the 2-seeded Cats got dumped by 11-seed Xavier in San Jose. The next year ‘Zona was the victim of a 4/13 upset at the hands of Buffalo in Boise. Last year as a 1-seed they were taken to OT by 9-seeded TCU then eliminated by 5-seed Houston in the Sweet 16 in San Antonio. That’s a trend.
1) Houston looks wobbly. The Cougars looked nothing like a 1-seed on Thursday night. Northern Kentucky trailed by only 3 at the half, and actually had things tied up with 14 minutes to go. Ultimately, Houston would dispatch of the Norse, but the damage was done. All-American Marcus Sasser reinjured himself, sitting for the entire second half. Without him on the floor, Houston’s offense melted into a puddle and only the 16-seeded Norse were worse. NKU was an atrocious 5-33 from beyond the arc, and had only a handful of those gone in, the Coogs would have been on the ropes. They looked like an incredibly fragile 1-seed that will be lucky to make it to next weekend.