Tourney Notebook - Day 1
Tourney Notebook - Day 1
Tourney Notebook - Day 1
By Chris David
Sixteen games are in the books, with another 16 on tap for Friday. On the first day, the favorites posted a 12-4 straight up ledger, but the underdogs prevailed with a 9-6-1 mark against the spread. None of the four underdogs that won outright were outrageous -- Maryland +1.5, Texas A&M (+3), Western Kentucky (+5), Michigan (+5) – and some of the money at the sportsbooks leaned that way as well. All of the double-digit favorites won by 10 points or more but their record against the number stood at 3-3-1 in the seven instances. Memphis arguably looked the flattest amongst the seven teams laying heavy wood.
The ‘over’ posted a 10-6 record and there weren’t many close calls. The only two instances were the North Carolina-Radford total, which closed at 162 and the Oklahoma-Morgan St total of 136 ½. The Tar Heels did their job but the 159 points still dipped below the number. The Sooners game (82-54 final) probably should’ve went ‘over’ and might’ve for some early bettors, but backup guard Tony Franklin clanked four free throws late, which is probably still hurting for some.
North Carolina played without its best player, Ty Lawson, and Connecticut took the court without head coach Jim Calhoun on the sidelines. Even without their leaders, the Tar Heels and Huskies both busted the century mark in their first round battles. UNC ripped Radford 101-58 and though the offense gets all the press in Chapel Hill, the defense did play better in this win albeit against a No. 16 seed.
The 103 points by the Huskies was the second-highest point total of the season, coming exactly a week after their highest point total of the year, when the school fell to Syracuse 127-117 in a six-overtime thriller during the Big East tourney. UConn had three players eclipse the 20-point barrier, with Stanley Robinson leading the way with 24.
Bad Beat of the Day
You had two games that you can consider tough outs but at the same time, you can’t feel bad for a gambler laying cash on double digit favorites in the tourney.
Considering Gonzaga (-14) trailed Akron 38-35 at halftime, backers were probably they even had a shot to cover the number. The Zags pulled away in the final 20 minutes and led by as many as 19 (74-55) with under three minutes on the clock. Sure enough, the Zips outscored the Zags 9-3 during that span and probably burned most bettors with a possible push by making a meaningless free throw at the end.
You know the only folks watching the end of the Duke-Binghamton game last night were obviously viewing with a vested interest. No other reason to get into a blowout game, unless the point-spread is 24 and the margin was hovering right around it. The Blue Devils appeared to be on their way to another win, cover, and ‘over’ ticket with less than 2 minutes on the clock. The Bearcats kept fighting and trimmed the lead to 23 (83-60) on back-to-back shots. Duke was just trying to run the clock out and some Lithuania kid drills a bomb from downtown (I can only imagine the public’s roar at the books) to take an 86-60 lead. Joe Public was ready to cash, but the might SUNY school added a deuce at the end to get the backdoor push for some ‘dog players.
Since the six BCS conference make up the majority (36) of the 65-team field, it’s fair to separate this group from the remaining 29 schools.
The Big 12 received six bids to the dance, with Oklahoma garnering the most respect, a two-seed in the South Region. The Sooners took Morgan State’s best shot (literally) and still wound up winning by 28 points. Texas and Texas A&M also posted double-digit victories for a conference record of 3-0, more importantly 3-0 ATS.
The ACC went 3-1 SU in its first four games, with Clemson being the lone loser. The Tigers could’ve packed it in late but they fought back from 15 down in the second-half and had a shot to tie, but the school couldn’t buy a shot all day. Head coach Oliver Purnell takes a lot of heat and deservingly so at times, but you can’t blame him when the Tigers shoot a paltry 32 percent, including a dreadful 1-of-8 performance from sharpshooter Terrence Oglesby.
LSU earned a solid 75-71 win over Butler for the SEC, but the conference’s tournament champion, Mississippi State, had no shot against Washington in Portland. The Bulldogs lost 71-58 in wire-to-wire fashion. The Tigers and Tennessee, who play Friday, are the lone SEC squads left.
UCLA almost got knocked out by VCU but Eric Maynor’s tournament heroics fell short against the Bruins. Along with the Bruins and aforementioned Washington victory above, the Pac 10’s lone loss on Thursday came from California against Maryland. The Bears were 7-of-24 (29%) from beyond the arc and they entered the tourney as the best 3-point shooting team in the field. Live by the 3, die by it!
The Big 10 went 2-2 and still has three teams playing on Friday. The conference was 1-3 ATS with the Wolverines cashing the only ticket. Purdue defeated Northern Iowa 61-56 but its tentative approach at the end never gave backers a shot laying 8 ½-points. Illinois kept the 5/12 upset tradition going when Western Kentucky pulled off a mild 76-72 upset. Minnesota had no answer for guard A.J. Abrams (26 points) and lost to Texas 76-62.
The Big East post a 2-0 SU and 1-1 ATS ledger. UConn’s blowout was an easy winner, while Villanova had to rally past American, 80-67. The Wildcats cashed some big tickets for second-half players as the Eagles went cold after the break. Jay Wright’s team failed to cover the game as a 15 1/2-point ‘chalk’ in the win.
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The Gold Sheet
Many years ago, when the one and only Al McGuire was working as a TV analyst, the colorful ex-Marquette head coach had several cliches he liked to bring out every March. One of his favorites regarded higher-profile tournament teams dodging the proverbial bullet, which McGuire felt was almost a prerequisite before a squad could win a title. Indeed, McGuire liked to relate how his last Marquette team in 1977 endured a huge scare in the national semifinals that year in Atlanta against an unheralded upstart, UNC-Charlotte, coached by Lee Rose and led by F Cedric Maxwell, who would go on to a productive NBA career. The then-called Warriors escaped with a thrilling, 51-49 last-second win (not too dissimilar in its conclusion from the controversial USA-Soviet Union Olympic Gold Medal game in 1972) en route to winning McGuire’s only title, the specifics of which McGuire reminded his audience every year. “Teams that want to win in March,” said McGuire, “have to have a close call along the way, like we did in ‘77 against Charlotte. They have to get that monkey off of their back if they want to win the whole thing.”
Sadly, we haven’t had McGuire around for more than eight years to remind us, in his own inimitable way, about “getting that money off their back.” But if he were, we suspect he’d be counting several of this season’s Day One sub-regional participants into that category. For if Thursday was a day and night of getting monkeys off of teams’ backs, then the likes of Memphis, Villanova, and even UCLA cast aside their own King Kongs on Day One. Although a few heavily favored teams went through exercises that more-resembled scrimmages, a couple of big favorites had legitimate scares on Thursday, much more so than the final scores would indicate.
Case in point was second West seed Memphis, a 20-point favorite over the unheralded Big West champ, Cal State Northridge, which was given about as much chance against the powerful Tigers as Buster Douglas once was against Mike Tyson. But midway into the second half of the UM-CSUN battle at Kansas City, analogies with Douglas-Tyson were starting to creep into the minds of everyone at the Sprint Center as well as sports books all around Las Vegas, as the upstart Matadors held a 6-point lead. Moreover, they had Memphis in a panic, as the Tigers were rushing shots and acting as if they had never before played against a zone defense. Riding to the rescue for Memphis, however, was an unlikely hero in the name of 6-5 juco transfer Roburt (that’s Roburt with a “u”) Sallie, a reserve with decidedly modest stats (4.5 ppg and a career high of 13 points) who on this day would put on a shooting clinic that would make even Stephen Curry envious. When the dust finally settled, Sallie had obliterated his personal scoring best in Bob Beamon-like fashion, scoring a whopping 35 points while making 10 of 15 triples in igniting a late burst that resulted in an 81-70 Tigers win. It also marked Memphis’ all-time NCAA tourney scoring record, surpassing the best Big Dance performances of Larry Kenon, Keith Lee, Penny Hardaway, Derrick Rose and others. And it’s a good thing for Memphis that Sallie discovered his shooting eye in time, because nobody else on John Calipari’s squad could hit the broadside of a barn, with the other Tiger shooters missing on 12 of their 13 treys.
Another potentially-embarrassing bullet dodged belonged to 3rd East seed Villanova, which was not only a de facto host in Philly’s Wachovia Center against Patriot League champ American U, but also an 18-point favorite over the Washington, D.C.-based and appropriately-named Eagles. And early in the second half, the Wildcats’ plight looked even worse than Memphis’ did earlier in the day, with American thoroughly outhustling and outplaying Nova and holding a stunning 45-31 advantage. At that point, however, the switch turned on for the Wildcats, who began to chip away with Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham leading the way, eventually reclaiming the lead at 58-55 with just over 6 minutes to play. The lead stretched thereafter, and for a few moments it appeared as if the Cats were about to record one of the unlikliest pointspread covers in memory when American, dying hard, continued to foul in the final moments after the outcome had long been decided. The lead grew to 15 and one point before the final 80-67 scoreline, which in truth flatters Villanova. The game, which looked as if it was going the other way for a long while, was eerily reminiscent of another Nova first-round game three years ago, when as a 1 seed at the same Wachovia Center, the Cats were pushed by 16 seed (and play-in winner) Monmouth before escaping with another deceiving 58-45 win.
Elsewhere, there were a few other close escapes, and a few mild upsets, but even in those games we don’t think the final result was much of a surprise. Wins by 5-point underdogs Michigan (62-59 over Clemson) and Western Kentucky (76-72 over Illinois) hardly qualify as stunners; indeed, both games appeared to be easy wins for the respective victors until the Tigers and Fighting Illini (playing without injured G Chester Frazier) made belated last-minute runs that turned both games into unexpected hair-raisers at the finish. The game of the day ended up being the nightcap of the Wachovia Center sub-regional, when Virginia Commonwealth spent the entire second half nibbling at UCLA’s 10-point halftime lead before finding itself with the ball and trailing by one with just 11 seconds to play. It was set up for one more heroic act by star sr. G Eric Maynor, whose cool under fire is legendary, but the Bruins’ pressure defense altered the play call by Ram HC Anthony Grant, and Maynor’s forced 15-footer under heavy duress at the buzzer went awry, allowing UCLA to escape 65-64 but providing an easy cover for 8-point underdog VCU. Another 8-point dog, Northern Iowa, made a serious late run at Purdue in the opening game of the Portland sub-regional before the Boilermakers scraped to a 61-56 win. The see-saw game of the day was the opener of the Greensboro sub-regional, with Butler and LSU trading leads throughout a taut second half before the Tigers finally survived, 75-71.
Random observations from Las Vegas on Day One...
1) Big Ten doldrums? It was not the best or worst of days for the Big Ten, with two of its four entries (Purdue and Michigan) advancing to the second round. Pointspread-wise, however, the Big Ten managed only one cover (the Wolverines over Clemson), with Minnesota looking particularly inept in its 76-62 loss vs. Texas. Friday action finds three more Big Ten entries (Michigan State vs. Robert Morris, Wisconsin vs. Florida State, and Ohio State vs. Siena) in action.
Speaking of Ohio State, one of its most-famous alums, Bob Knight, was holding court along with Billy Packer at the Wynn Hotel, where both are staying during the tourney as they tape Packer’s “Survive and Advance” TV show. And, for what it’s worth, Knight indicated (without mention of any pointspreads, by the way) that he thought Wisconsin was going to have its hands full with Florida State.
Just thought we’d pass that Big Ten tidbit along.
2) Big XII comes up BIG. The Big XII really was big on Thursday, with three thundering wins and covers. Texas A&M hit its first 10 shots from the floor and never looked back in whipping BYU for the second straight year in the opening round, 79-66. Texas took complete charge in the second half when throttling Minnesota. And Oklahoma, though enduring a scary fall by star frontliner Blake Griffin, dismantled Morgan State, 82-54. Oklahoma State (vs. Tennessee), Kansas (vs. North Dakota State), and Missouri (vs. Cornell) are in action on Friday.
3) Other conference notes. Other conference pointspread tallies from Thursday (multiple results only): ACC 3-1, Pac-10 1-2, SEC 1-1, Big East 1-1.
4) Favorites vs. underdogs. Overall, not much definition in Thursday’s results, with nine underdogs and seven favorites allowing their backers to cash tickets. Interestingly, the heaviest chalk sides on Thursday (Duke, North Carolina, and UConn) all covered. Depending upon the spread of the Memphis-CSUN game (19½ or 20), 20-point or more favorites were 3-0 on Day One.
5) Still getting bullied. Much had been made of the collective failures of the lower-echelon D-I tourney teams vs. the numbers the past two seasons. And it was more of the same on Thursday, with the little guys going 1-4 vs. the line, the only cover belonging to American over Villanova. Stephen F. Austin (vs. Syracuse), Morehead State (vs. Louisville), East Tennessee State (vs. Pitt), Robert Morris (vs. Michigan State), North Dakota State (vs. Kansas), and Portland State (vs. Xavier) give it their best shots on Friday.
6) B.Y.-Lose. Perhaps the Cougars ought to try their luck in the NIT. For the third straight year, BYU lost in the first round, making it 0-for-7 for the Cougs in their last 7 opening-round games.
7) Player of the Day: Roburt Sallie, Memphis. We dare say the Tigers might be heading back to Memphis had Saullie not saved the day vs. CS Northridge. Scoring 35 points on 10 of 15 triples, while eclipsing his career scoring high by 22 points, ought to make Sallie worthy of a barbeque dish in his name at Corky’s.
8) Enough already! We don’t have the temerity to question UCLA HC Ben Howland. But we do wonder sometimes about Howland’s rather inane habit of calling timeouts on a whim. Strategically, they seem to make little sense, and indeed they are just as apt to backfire on him. Case in point was just above the 12-minute mark in the second half of Thursday’s game against Virginia Commonwealth. Ram HC Anthony Grant had chosen to sit star Eric Maynor for a brief respite on what appeared the last stoppage of play before the 12-minute TV timeout. That personnel strategy is used by almost all coaches, in order to maximize the upcoming media timeout while giving key players the most time to rest and recharge without missing much actual playing time. After a few moments of play, Howland, however, was then quick to call one of his patented curious full timeouts just before the 12-minute mark, which in essence gave Maynor an extra minute-plus of valuable rest and recharging, as he also got another break for the full TV timeout due shortly thereafter. The Bruins did nothing with their possession out of their timeout, Maynor got extra rest, and was relatively fresh down the stretch when putting VCU on his back and almost pulling the upset for the Rams. That extra spring Maynor had in his step when VCU was rallying could have been due the extra rest he was getting when Howland called his curious timeout at 12:04 of the second half.
9) Expert analysis. Lots of basketball folk convene in Las Vegas for the tournament, and we found it interesting how a few of the sharpest veteran minds in the business were on different sides of one particular Thursday game. The aforementioned Billy Packer and Bob Knight both thought strongly that Mississippi State was going to beat favored Washington on Thursday. That contrasted with the opinion of the sage Bob Boyd, the former Southern Cal and Mississippi State coach who told us at dinner on Wednesday night that Washington was going to beat Mississippi State. Score this one for coach Boyd, who was correct in forecasting the Huskies’ triumph over his former employer.
And a reminder that great minds do not all think alike!