Underdog Story of the Tournament
The Cornell Big Red Trip to the Sweet 16 The first Ivy League team to make it that far in the tournament since 1979, Cornell didn’t just beat their first two opponents: they dominated them. After beating Temple and Wisconsin, it seemed that Cornell’s early season near-win against Kansas wasn’t the fluke many pundits thought it was. These victories set up the March Madness equivalent of Puerto Rico versus the United States in international basketball, with the Big Red facing Kentucky. Cornell doesn’t offer scholarships to athletes, while Kentucky has four freshmen on scholarships, at least half of whom would not have been in Lexington this year if the NBA draft still accepted high school seniors. While Cornell was able to keep within striking distance until late in the second half, this game never really felt close.
Best Game of the First Four Rounds
Kansas State 101 Xavier 96, Double Overtime: This game took place at the same time as the Cornell-Kentucky game and overshadowed the David and Goliath match-up with which it was competing for airtime. The teams hit big shot after big shot in the last five minutes of regulation and the two overtimes. First, K-State star Jacob Pullen hit a seeming dagger three with less than 30 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, with his team down by three, Xavier guard Terrell Holloway made one of the most heads-up plays I’ve ever seen. When he noticed that Kansas State was going to foul him to stop a potential game-tying three, he heaved a desperation shot from behind the three-point line during the foul. Xavier now had a chance to tie the game with three made free throws. Holloway calmly stepped to the line and hit all three free throws, sending the game into overtime. In the first overtime, Jordan “Dunked on LeBron” Crawford hit a three from over 30 feet to tie the game at the end of a back-and-forth overtime. In the second overtime, it seemed that Xavier would continue their run of comebacks. However, a Pullen three and two pairs of free throws from Pullen and his backcourt mate, Denis Clemente, finally put the game away.
Most Exciting Random Stretch of Game
Tennessee v. Michigan State: Usually the first five minutes of a game are pretty dull. Both teams are bundles of nerves and they need some time to settle into the game. However, the first five minutes of the Tennessee-Michigan State game was anything but typical. By the first TV time-out, the score was tied at 16 in an up-tempo display of “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Thus far, the game seemed like something two people might have played on NBA Live in rookie mode. Neither team missed a three, shooting a combined 6-6. Tennessee didn’t even miss a shot in the first five minutes. The only offensive mistakes were two Tennessee turnovers and two missed shots from Michigan State. To put it in perspective, the score of the West Virginia-Kentucky game the day before was 15-16 with 5:30 minutes left in the first half. When CBS went to commercial, I was convinced that I had accidentally put on the Warriors game and was watching a rare stretch where they kept pace with their opponents.
Upset of the Tournament
Ohio over Georgetown: Nobody saw this coming. Ohio went 7-9 in the MAC, not exactly a powerful conference like the Big East. Georgetown was coming off a run to the Big East final, and it could be argued that they were seeded too high given their ten losses. Still, few people would have predicted a first round exit for the Hoyas given their pedigree. What was truly shocking about this victory was that it was never close, as Armon Bassett scored 32 of Ohio’s 97 points.
Who You Should Be Rooting For Butler: This is a no brainer. The first team from outside the major power conferences to make the Final Four since George Mason, these lovable Bulldogs aren’t quite the Cinderella story that George Mason was, given their five seed. However, they have come to represent the best of the mid-majors, surpassing even Gonzaga in recent years. The only downside is that you’re sure to hear way too much about how their campus is seven miles from the arena in the next week. Michigan State: The other five seed in the Final Four, Michigan State is more of a traditional power than Butler. However, they do have a good story, as they are playing without their star point guard, Kalin Lucas. Despite his absence, the Spartans made a run to their sixth Final Four in twelve years, thanks to not having to play Kansas and Ohio State. West Virginia: I’ve never been a fan of Bob Huggins. His Cincinnati program always irritated me, and his abrupt departure from Kansas State defined classless. Plus, nobody is as successful a recruiter at schools like the ones Huggins has coached without engaging in some Calipari style shenanigans. I do like Da’Sean Butler though. Duke: Too easy. Even if I hadn’t lived in Chapel Hill for eleven years, hating Duke is a truly national phenomenon. What is there to like? I may be biased, but only a slow-moving goofball from the coast of central California could cheer for this team without a deep connection to the university. Also they kept LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter from playing in the Final Four. There hasn’t been such a clear distinction between good and evil since the rebels took on the Empire. Unfortunately, I think Duke will once again test my faith in the existence of a higher power. If anyone else wins, it will be a cause for much celebration.