Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
A billion reasons to give Buckeyes stink eye
Ohio State's Aaron Craft (4) reacts after a call during the second half of a second-round game against Dayton in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Dayton won the game 60-59. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Thank you, Ohio State University.
Sorry, The Ohio State University.
Sorry, Ohio Stinks University.
The No. 6 seeded Buckeyes opened the NCAA Tournament on Thursday and promptly lost to No. 11 seed Dayton, bursting the billion dollar bracket of millions.
Now we know why Ohio State Coach Thad Matta dodges the smaller programs in Ohio. He can’t beat them. Yeah, yeah, Arkansas State has the same argument as Dayton and others, but this is about the NCAA Tournament.
Just two weeks ago Dayton was being mentioned as a possible play-in candidate along with Arkansas. The Razorbacks slumped but the Flyers didn’t, and Dayton went toe-to-toe Thursday with the much wealthier, much snobbier Buckeyes and the little brother didn’t back up an inch.
Vee Sanford hit a layup with 3.8 seconds remaining, and suddenly the Flyers were contenders and the Buckeyes were pretenders.
Sure, Aaron Craft took a final desperation shot from 10 feet that wasn’t close, but he also was the guy called for a flagrant foul that allowed the Flyers to keep a three-point lead late in the game.
Ohio State and Dayton are about 75 miles apart, but Thursday the Flyers were the biggest program in Ohio as the Buckeyes broke the hearts of millions who dreamed of winning a billion bucks. If there seems to be a hint of bitterness in this assessment, it’s because one of those busted brackets was mine, and it happened in the first game of the 64-team bracket.
Obviously there were more upsets, but this is Ohio State, which won its first 15 games of the season but struggled once it entered Big Ten play and finished fifth, yet somehow snared a No. 6 seed.
Where is Dick Vitale when you need him?
On the other hand, nothing against No. 5 seed Cincinnati, another little brother in Ohio, but it was just hard not to pull for the brainiacs from Harvard.
It’s obvious the No. 12 seeded Crimson don’t have the size, athleticism or depth to go deep in the tournament, but a first-round victory and wearing the Cinderella crown for a day or two is what NCAA Tournament fans love.
It looked to all the world like the officials made a bad call that gave the Bearcats the ball with 50.5 seconds left, trailing 56-53, but a huge turnover put the Crimson at the line with 37.6 seconds left. They made only 1 of 2, and a couple of free throws by Cincinnati made it 57-55 with 20 seconds to play. Suddenly, the game of the day - as declared at Razorback Pizza by former Razorback and current radio talk show host Pat Bradley - was indeed just that.
Harvard added two free throws, the Bearcats shot an airball, and before you knew it Harvard had survived and advanced with 61-57 victory, its second ever in the NCAA Tournament.
Simply put, the best team won. It also dropped teams from Ohio to 1-3 in tournament play, with Xavier having lost its play-in game.
Harvard’s Tommy Amaker had some success coaching at Seton Hall and flopped at Michigan, but the former Duke standout and graduate seems to have found his home at the academic giant.
All in all it was a fun opening day, even if millions who dreamed of winning a billion dollars - including me - lost out because of overrated and overseeded Ohio State.
Incidentally, the SEC has distinguished itself pretty well, going 4-0 in the opening rounds of the NIT and 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee won its play-in game and advanced to the full bracket, where it will play UMass today. No. 1 seeded Florida beat No. 16 seed Albany on Thursday, and Kentucky plays Kansas State today.
The Arkansas Razorbacks may be playing in the NIT, but judging from the lingering crowds at Razorback Pizza, the Tavern and Corky’s, there is little doubt NCAA Tournament fever still runs high.
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/21/2014