Like It Is:

Better defenses sure can wreck a bracket

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018
Arkansas guard Daryl Macon is defended by Butler guard Kemar Baldwin during a NCAA Tournament game Friday, March 16, 2018, in Detroit.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas guard Daryl Macon is defended by Butler guard Kemar Baldwin during a NCAA Tournament game Friday, March 16, 2018, in Detroit.

DETROIT -- Early Friday morning sitting in Little Caesars Arena, your trusty scribe found an email that said the office pool for the NCAA Tournament had survived.

Picks had been made on CBSsports.com and then it was discovered that Walter Webb, who always runs the pool, still had the flu and there would be no pool. Later Jeremy Muck offered to take it over and someone with better computer skills found my bracket and transferred it into the office pool.

It was a good feeling, having gone 14-2 on Thursday, which was a tie for the led.

Then there was Friday and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Razorbacks who were in my Sweet 16, showed up in the arena, but one more time this season they forgot something.

No matter how many times Mike Anderson told them that defense keys their offense and that stopping the other team first and denying easy baskets is how the Razorbacks win games.

Stopping Butler seemed to be the last thing on their mind. The Bulldogs were blowing by them for uncontested lay-ups and dunks. They shot and made open threes.

The Razorbacks were firing up low percentage shots and trying to make lay-ups from odd angles too far from the rim.

They lost 79-62 and emails started filling my in-box.

No Razorback fan was happy. Not with the team or with Anderson.

Butler is a team that eats at McDonald's but isn't on the All-American team. They are guys who come to work every day and every game.

They were better than the Razorbacks Friday afternoon in almost every aspect of the game, especially on defense. Their perimeter defense was amazing and the Hogs made just 4 of 18 threes for a chilly 22.2 percent.

The work room in the arena began to fill up as Michigan State got ready to play, but work was work for those of us who had to try and explain why the Razorbacks just simply refuse to play great defense every game, and especially against teams with good guards.

Butler had good guards.

Sometime around 10 p.m. a quick look at my bracket showed third place with a chance to move up.

Virginia was the pick to win it all.

The Virginia Cavaliers, winners of the glorious ACC regular season and tournament. The overall No. 1 pick in the tournament who had lost only two games all season.

Virginia was the headliner of this 2018 NCAA Tournament, and that didn't change.

The Cavaliers were playing the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. A team that wasn't supposed to make the field. They finished second in the American East three games behind a decent Vermont who got upset in the conference tournament.

No. 1 seeds were 135-0 against No. 16 seeds.

According to CBS, 99.4 percent of those playing their contest had the Cavaliers winning, with 64 percent having them in the Elite Eight and 55 percent in the Final Four. And 44 percent had them in the championship game and 23 percent winning it all.

Only the Cavaliers lost and became an even bigger headline and assured this year's tournament of being one talked about for years to come. Suddenly everyone remembered Virginia's 1982 loss to Chaminade -- in Hawaii with Hawaiian referees.

It was tied at the half and someone in the press room said, "No biggie, lots of time left. Virginia will blow them out in the second half."

Instead, the Cavaliers had no answer for Jairus Lyles, whose parents both graduated from Virginia, and UMBC scored 53 second-half points and held UVA to 33 to win 74-54.

Defense wins games regardless of seeding.

Sports on 03/18/2018

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.