First Round Knockout/Second Round Hangover [originally posted on sportsblog.com 3/25/14]

Well my bracket is officially F@#$ed. And the two teams I were rooting heavily for are both out like fat kids playing dodgeball.

Shout outs to Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early (12-17 shooting 31 pts 7 rebounds 1 steal, 1 block) and Kansas’ Tarik Black ( 18 points 6 rebounds) for giving it their all, and leaving nothing on the court for the last games of their college careers. It was a pleasure to watch both of them play this year.

Sunflower Season State Wrap Up

Let’s start with the Jayhawks. I said before the tournament started that the season would be a success no matter what happened, but I had figured that the team would be able to make the Sweet Sixteen even without Embiid. I am willing to admit that I was probably wrong about my assessment of the Pac-12’s talent. The only team I had advancing was Arizona. I had Stanford, Arizona State (who I’m sorry to say goodbye to their cheerleaders–I mean I thought UCLA had the baddest stable but I’m happy to be wrong about that) UCLA and Oregon getting knocked out in the first round. I need to pay more attention to their conference obviously, because they were representing. Zona, UCLA, and Stanford are still playing, while Oregon made me look foolish picking against them in the first round.I had New Mexico beating Stanford and in hindsight, that looks pretty awful as well. I thought for sure Syracuse would be playing Kansas this week, but the tournament gods had other plans.

KU ran up against the perfect match-up for an early exit. Stanford’s front court was the perfect foil for KU, and the lack of outside shooting and inconsistent guard play for Kansas did them in (5-16 from 3 point land; 14 turnovers).

Just like that, the KU boys season was over and Andrew Wiggins finished his college career with 4 points on 1-6 shooting in his last game. Offensively, the whole team looked stagnant. There was very little movement without the ball; players were standing around. No one was setting up picks for other players either. Was this a coaching thing, or were the players just tired? I’m racking my brain to think of the last balanced offensive squad that Self has put out on the floor, and I can’t think of any after the ’08 championship squad. It was a disappointing way to see them go out, but it was a good season.

Big ups to Stanford for playing great defense and holding the Jayhawks to 57 points on 32 % shooting. Big ups to Johnny Dawkins (who looks so much like the guy who played the honorable Elijah Muhammad in “Malcolm X” ) for a great game plan. Last but not least, big ups to the Stanford band for bringing joy and pageantry to this weekend’s madness.

I hadn’t been too impressed with Kansas State at all this year, but my desire for a K-State and Wichita State second round (and outright disrespect for Kentucky) led me to pick with my heart. Wichita State draws Kentucky (which everyone concedes may be the best #8 seed in tournament history from a talent stand point alone) in the second round. From just watching the game, it felt like the Shockers were the underdog and Kentucky was the # 1 seed (while we’re at it, can we all admit that putting the Shockers in the same region as Duke, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisville, and Texas was a big middle finger to Wichita for being in the Missouri Valley Conference? If the NCAA selection committee really wanted to be fair, they would pick the seeds but then draw the teams out of a hat for regional placement–kind of like soccer. This would take alleviate some of the accusations of regional and conference bias).

I’ve read many people call the Kentucky-Wichita State game the best so far this season, and I’m not one to disagree. The intensity was high, the flow (besides a whistle happy officiating crew–though not quite as bad as the Stanford-KU game) was up tempo and exciting. There were big dunks, great shots, and amazing passes. Even though the Wildcats were bigger, longer, and deeper than the Shockers, the MVC champs were one shot away from beating Kentucky, or sending the game into overtime. I’m sorry that I won’t get to watch this lineup anymore. Cleanthony Early and Fred Van Fleet will be handing the controls over to guard Ron Baker.

Despite what some of the haters have said, this season won’t be remembered as a disappointment. In fact, the Shockers played an unprecedented stretch of basketball (first team to go 35-0), where even in defeat, they played at ridiculously high level. The “mediocre” Kentucky team that has at least 5 possible NBA players (Willie Cauley-Stein arguably the best prospect), shot lights out and out-rebounded Wichita State by almost ten rebounds and still only won by 2 points. I think if they had somehow managed to win against UK, then a rematch against Louisville this year would not be decided by the “fastest jump ball whistle” in college basketball history. Wichita State had a better team this year than last, while Louisville regressed a little.The fans (who were louder than the KU fans were up in St. Louis) from Wichita should be extremely proud of what this team accomplished, and no matter what anyone says, they are winners in my book. Even in defeat, the Shockers proved that they could play with any team in the nation.

Big Daddy Kane

DeAndre Kane put in work when his team needed it the most (24 points 10 rebounds and 7 assists). I have been saying all year that he’s a grown ass man, and last night’s performance proved that he is the “real deal”, as Kenny Smith put it. I had Iowa State going to the final four, but pretty much wrote them off after Georges Nang broke his foot. Cyclones had some timely shooting from Naz Long (4-8 shooting from 3), but when they needed someone to put the team on his back, DeAndre answered the call.

Napier going FED

Speaking of putting the team on your back, Shabazz “Palaces” Napier put in 21 of his 25 points in the second half;pretty much doing the Villanova Wildcats in by himself. There were a couple of times where Napier would put up a deep shot and my stream would freeze in mid air, one of those times the ball looked well short of the bucket, and somehow it hit nothing but net. I lost my s&%$ right then and there.

This weekend brought us one of the best opening rounds of hoop I have seen in years. The close games, exciting match ups, and bracket busting upsets helped this year’s tournament live up to the hype (so far). Stephen F. Austin and Mercer are just two glaring examples of why the tournament is so exciting, because contrary to what people think, the best team rarely wins the whole thing–it is normally the hottest team that does. Once the tournament is over, we’ll examine the Jayhawks’ season as a whole, but out of respect for the teams still playing, we’ll focus on the rest of the field. Good luck with the rest of your brackets.

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