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:
Arkansas’ late-late show an afterthought
Arkansas players sit on the bench during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in the second round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
If anyone is proud of their NCAA Tournament bracket after 48 games and with 15 to go, they aren’t saying much.
What made the first four days of March Madness so much fun was seeing the parity. Calling No. 11 seed Dayton “Cinderella,” would be a mistake because the Flyers earned their way to the Sweet 16 with victories over No. 6 Ohio State and No. 3 Syracuse.
At one time this season, people were saying just mail the championship trophy to the Orange. They appeared that unbeatable. The wheels started to come off before Syracuse got an undeserved No. 3 seed.
If ever an NCAA Tournament opening round buried the NIT, it was this one. Who would have ever thought it would be better to play on TruTV than ESPN?
Plus, the NIT didn’t help itself in this state by making the Razorbacks wait six days to play and then schedule them with a bedtime 10 p.m. tipoff.
Perhaps with Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee having advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 with a 7-0 record, there might be a feeling the Hogs should have gotten more consideration for an at-large spot in the Big Dance.
Sure, there are some national pundits who are going to claim the SEC’s success doesn’t mean the league was better than thought, but the facts don’t back that up. Plus, the Hogs beat Kentucky home and away this season.
Of course, this is being written before Monday night’s late, late game.
Anyway, here are a few observations about this past weekend while we wonder if the 12 games this weekend can match the excitement of the first.
Dana Altman led his new team, Oregon, to a 1-1 record, the same as his old team, Creighton had. His other old team, for a day, had that late, late game Monday night against California.
Sean Miller (Arizona) and Archie Miller (Dayton) are the first coaching brothers to make the same Sweet 16 and they could face each other in the national championship, although the odds are long that the Flyers can beat Stanford, Florida and the East Region champions.
Watching Tony Bennett coach Virginia reminded me of Eddie Sutton. Whether it was Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky or Oklahoma State, Sutton stressed in-your-face half-court defense and high-percentage shots on offense.
Of the Sweet 16 teams four are ranked in the top 20 nationally on offense and defense: Louisville, Florida, Virginia and Tennessee.
The top-ranked offensive team remaining is Michigan; the top-ranked defensive team is Arizona.
If you want to survive and advance you have to play defense, protect the ball and stick some jumpers.
The Sweet 16 has 3 No. 1s, 2 No. 2s, 1 No. 3, all 4 No. 4s and Nos. 6, 7, 8, 10 and 2 11s. That’s a lot of variety. It also has one of the great college basketball rivalries, Kentucky-Louisville, who will play in Indianapolis, a short drive from both campuses. Tickets for that regional are likely to be scalped at a great price.
Ironically, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale screamed loudest about No. 8 Kentucky and No. 4 Louisville being underseeded. Winning cures all seeding. Right now, the playing field is pretty level.
The toughness of the much ballyhooed Midwest proved to be a little off. No. 3 Duke went out in the first round at the hands of Mercer,No. 1 Wichita State lost to Kentucky, which at times this season seemed dysfunctional and No. 6 UMass was easily beaten by No. 11 Tennessee.
Finally, the billion dollars promised to anyone who could pick the perfect bracket didn’t make it to the third day of the tournament. Dayton’s victory eliminated 83 percent, Duke’s loss another 12 percent and by Friday night, only three brackets were alive but all three picked George Washington over Memphis.
For the record, yours truly picked 36 of 48 games and was in 172,106th place as of Monday.
Sports, Pages 17 on 03/25/2014