Reality can be a bitter pill to choke down with your tears. Just as the Norfolk State Spartans, who followed their remarkable upset over Missouri with an 84-50 cave-in against Florida.
The Gators used 25-0 run to build a 47-19 halftime lead.
“We were down 28 points,” center Kyle O'Quinn told reporters. “We couldn't have come back from 28 down even if it was a video game.”
Florida just overwhelmed the Spartans. “Yeah, we came back from 17 down to Morgan State this season to win, but this wasn't Morgan State, it was the University of Florida,” O’Quinn said.
But, hey, at least Norfolk State made history in this tourney. Nothing can erase their elimination of a No. 2 seed.
"So do you think you'll be remembered more for the win over Missouri or this loss to Florida?" a TV reporter asked.
“What do you think?” O’Quinn said.
CRUMMY EFFORT OF THE WEEKEND
Idaho didn’t seem all that thrilled to be playing in the CIT. It missed 13 of its first 14 shots while falling behind Utah State 39-16 in the first half of its 76-56 loss.
“This game needs to be flushed down the toilet,” coach Don Verlin said. “I don't think we need to focus on this game as far as our season.”
FROM THE TWEETDECK
Here is what the pundits were writing Sunday:
Sports Pickle: “By the way, there's no reason watch 'The Walking Dead' finale right now. If you need a zombie fix, I'm pretty sure Xavier's center is one.”
Sports Pickle: “I'm no basketball Xs and Os expert, but Norfolk State seemed better when they made all of their shots.”
Gregg Doyel: “The Norfolk that beat Mizzou is the Norfolk that almost beat Marquette. The Norfolk today is the one that lost to Illinois State by 32.”
Matt Sebek: “Wonder how people across the nation looked up ‘Billiken’ today and debated if SLU's mascot was modeled after their head coach.”
Matt Sebek: “SLU's objective is to tire you out until you give in. Majerus does the same thing to brisket carvers at Golden Corral.”
Sports Pickle: “UNC up 15. All the Duke fans who broke their 52-inch flatscreens on Friday night are now breaking one of their other 52-inch flatscreens.”
The Fake ESPN: “Alex Smith frustrated after Miami spends their 5 hour meeting drinking chardonnay and talking about not being good enough for Peyton.”
Clay Travis: “Will perpetual bridesmaids Dolphins overpay for Alex Smith now? Would petulant Smith agree? Real Housewives of NFL spins on.”
Eric Stangel: “BREAKING: The Miami Dolphins will play the 2012 season with no quarterback.”
Sports Pickle: “Matt Flynn has signed with the Seahawks. Let the bidding war for Tarvaris Jackson begin!!!”
FROM THE BLOG-O-SPEAR
The folks at Can’t Stop the Bleeding wondered about ESPN’s NCAA Tournament coverage:
It’s been reported in a number of outlets this weekend that former Indiana head coach Bobby Knight, currently toiling as an analyst for ESPN, won’t even utter the word, “Kentucky”, while discussing the ongoing NCAA hoops tournament. Given that John Calipari’s Wildcats are the #1 ranked team in the land, that’s a pretty conspicuous omission, and one that essentially erases any claim of Knight’s impartiality.
That said, Knight’s nothing if he isn’t consistent. Previously, he’s taken shots at Calipari and only those with a harsh case of attention deficit disorder are unaware of his animus towards the Wildcats. But it’s ridiculous that his thoughts are still being solicited by the Worldwide Leader this postseason given the likelihood Knight himself becomes part of the story.
Or maybe it’s less curious than it is totally contrived.
OK, so Day One of the NCAA Tournament wasn’t all that magical. At least the pundits had some fun with the proceedings.
Here is a sampler of what went down in the Twitterverse:
Joe Strauss: “UConn another fraud deservedly on the NCAA trash heap. Embarrassing the pimping networks afforded Calhoun, Huggins. Neither deserving.”
Andy Katz: “I don't see Jim Calhoun retiring in the offseason. He wants to see the new practice facility. He also won't go out like this. Not his style.”
Jennifer Floyd Engel: “Hidden message in this Iowa State-UConn game: Big 12 got screwed. League deserved No. 1 seed for somebody.”
The Fake ESPN: “Baylor drained 8,520 highlighters to make their uniforms.”
Sports Pickle: “Baylor's plan of wearing out South Dakota State's eyes obviously worked.”
Eric Stangel: “I just turned on TruTV. Why the hell is Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura not on??????”
Rick Chandler: “Has anyone ever seen Tom Crean and Dwight Schrute in the same place at the same time?”
Sports Pickle: “Indiana players have t-shirts that read: ‘Attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!’ I guess "Carpe diem" wasn't wordy enough.”
Darren Rovell: “Eight people out of 5.9 million http://ESPN.com brackets didn't get one game right. Did their cat fill out their bracket?”
Tracy Ringolsby: “Syracuse may have lost Melo to grades, but was able to add three officials for first-round game. Can it petition for same 3 for K St game?”
The Fake ESPN: “Most don't hear Lesley Visser's commentary, the botox billboard she wears on her forehead is extremely distracting.”
Sports Pickle: “Colorado is looking good. Proof that Pac-12 Disease is dormant for a year before killing the victim.”
Kenny Mayne: “Is Colorado really quick or did UNLV take an 8 hour team sauna?”
Darren Rovell: “If Gregg Marshall gets a job interview outside of Wichita State: Exactly what play did you draw up on that last timeout?”
Phil Coke’s Brain: “If we can't get Gus Johnson on these games maybe the Puppy Bowl people are available to spice things up.”
The Fake ESPN: “John Calipari plans to have even more wins vacated so he can celebrate his 500th career win a third and fourth time.”
Jennifer Floyd Engel: “Day 1 of March Madness has not been nearly as interesting as Wednesday's Melodrama in New York, or playing Where's Manning.”
Sports Pickle: Huh. “The dad from Wonder Years is coaching Loyola (MD) now.”
Excuse our confusion in this corner of the Internets, but can somebody explain the following:
If the NCAA is so concerned about geography, how did VCU and Davidson end up playing in Portland? Isn’t that a 2.300-mile journey for either team?
With Syracuse’s Fab Melo out of the NCAA Tournament, does Marquette’s Vander Blue have the coolest name? Or does that honor go to Dakota Slaughter?
Which is the better father-son, coach-player combination, Detroit’s Ray McCallum and Ray McCallum Jr. or Creighton’s Greg McDermott and Doug McDermott?
Is Las Vegas taking a lot of action on tonight’s Western Kentucky-Mississippi Valley play-in game?
When assessing this battle of No. 16 seeds, do you just throw out the records?
Will Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall get a big money offer to depart the Missouri Valley Conference? Does he have one eye on that South Carolina opening?
Is this the season Georgetown plays big in the Big Dance? Or will all those big bodies shrivel up against less imposing foes?
Where can you find this “truTV” we hear of on the cable box?
Is it a good idea to turn sideline reporter Craig Sager – and his technicolor sports coats – loose on college kids?
After perking up a bit in the Big 12 Tournament, will potential Baylor star Perry Jones III become a major tourney factor?
Now that he is clear of the heavy Big Ten traffic for a change, with Ohio State star Jared Sullinger wreak havoc in the paint?
Are to believe that studio analyst Charles Barkley looked at even one college basketball game this season?
Why do we need a College Basketball Invitational tourney in addition to the NIT? Haven’t fans of also-ran teams suffered enough?
What in the heck is the “College Insider Tournament”?
Why would this “CIT” schedule Tennessee Tech (at Georgia State) and Tennessee State (at Mercer) to play at the same exact time tonight (7 p.m. Eastern)? How will fans from that great basketball state know which game to travel to?
And did this Robert Morris find some guys to come along and play Indiana State?
The 68-team NCAA Tournament field is set. The match-ups are in place. The selection committee made some, um, interesting decisions in the process.
Here is how folks reacted on Twitter:
Sports Pickle: “You know what would be a great start to the NCAA Tournament? Have Kentucky and Syracuse meet in a play-in game for a 1-seed.”
Jason Sobel: “Let me put this into terms more of you may understand: Justin Rose just won conference title. Now high seed going into Big Dance at Augusta.”
Gary Parrish: “For the 478th consecutive year, the top five RPI teams omitted from the NCAA tournament were from non-BCS-affiliated leagues.”
Jerry Sullivan: “The Colonial has put more teams in the Final Four in the last six years than the Big 12. You'd think they'd get more respect.”
Darren Rovell: “Worst part about tomorrow: Guy in office who loves some team to the Elite 8 when he hasn't watched a game all year.”
Mark Whicker: “I like argument for reg season champs like Washington and Drexel. But obviously no one in NCAA cares about conferences these days.”
Sports Pickle: “My favorite part of the Selection Show is picking out the one fake team they try to slip in every year. NORFOLK STATE. Not a real school.”
Seth Meyers: “No NCAA tourney for Northwestern but still the best Cats team I ever watched. Prob NIT champs?”
Dennis Dodd: “Best first-round games: Iowa St-UConn, Wichita St-VCU, Baylor-SDSU, ND-X, KState-USM, Vandy-Harvard, Memphis-STL, UNM-LBSU, Murray-Colo St.”
Darren Rovell: “The odds of picking the 1st round correctly? 1 in 19,323. Odds of being struck by lightning once in lifetime? 1 in 10,000.”
Mark Whicker: “My question is how come it came down to Iona v. Drexel. Some real power conference dogmeat in the field.”
Derrick Goold: “Who says the NCAA doesn't have a sense of humor: putting KU and #Mizzou in same gym without a chance of playing each other. Tension.”
Pat Forde: “Committee clearly biased against smart guys, matching up Vandy w Harvard.”
Steve Rushin: “Last year I had H&R Block do my brackets. This year I'm using TurboBracket.”
Gary Parrish: “By my count, seven schools in the West Region have spent time in the Top 10 of the AP poll this season. That's strong.”
Darren Rovell: “For those who didn't make the NCAA's or the NIT, there's the CBI. Schools PAY $35K to host 1st round game. Goes up to $75K for semis.”
One by one, conferences you are not familiar with decide which relatively obscure school to send to the NCAA Tournament. Every league but the Ivy League uses a conference tournament to determine their automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Many of these games are compelling, such as the Illinois State-Creighton final in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. ISU forced the game into overtime, but the No. 25 Blue Jays ultimately won 83-79 to earn the league’s automatic berth.
“If you couldn't tell how badly this team wanted to win this tournament, you must have been eating a lot of popcorn,” coach Tim Jankovich told reporters. “To fall that short of an NCAA bid is painful beyond words.”
But much of this activity elicits blank looks from the casual sports fan. When you get past the major basketball conferences, keeping the teams and leagues straight is nearly impossible.
Did you realize that Asheville, N.C., hosted both the Southern Conference Tournament and the Big South Tournament this weekend? Or that Charleston Southern resides in the Big South and College of Charleston plays in the Southern Conference?
Did you realize South Carolina Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast are actual Division I basketball schools, not just geographic regions? Or that Portland and Portland State are both D-I programs, as are Alabama A&M, Alabama State, South Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham and plain old Alabama?
Did you know that Bryant University, fresh off its 2-28 season in Smithfield, R.I., will have full Division I rights and privileges next season in the Northeast Conference? Did you know there even was a Bryant University?
Our favorite conference name is the Atlantic Sun, who conjures visions of a Bermuda vacation. Belmont has earned five of that league's last seven berths, but it is moving on to the much more prestigious Ohio Valley Conference.
Anyway, four automatic berths will be decided tonight as the Southern Conference stages its title game along with the Colonial Athletic Association, Metro Atlantic Athletic and West Coast Conference. The favorites to advance: Davidson, Drexel, Loyola of Maryland and St. Mary’s.
More championship games will be played later in the week. From the massive pile of mid- and low-major schools some Cinderella candidates will emerge. The vast majority of them will take a quick beating and return home to obscurity.
CRUMMY EFFORT OF THE WEEKEND
Duke stumbled to a 48-24 deficit on its home court. Yeah, North Carolina was the visitor – but weren’t the Blue Devils angling for a No. 1 seed? How does that happen?
Miles Plumlee explained after Duke closed out the lopsided loss: “Throughout the year, we’ve been immature. We always want to see how little we have to do to win. You give a team like that a 20-point lead, it’s nearly impossible to win. We need to fight, like we did at times, for a whole game.”
Should the NFL put draft prospects through an endorsement combine?
FROM THE TWEETDECK
Drew Magary: “Why does LeBron have a Lincoln beard? The only thing he emancipates is the ball from his hands with less than two minutes to play.”
Mark Whicker: “Heat has two tremendous players, one very good one, two or three decent ones, and some certified garbage.”
Sports Pickle: “It's starting to seem like maybe the Lakers won't be completely doomed by trading Lamar Odom.”
Jim Rome: “The mask is still a tough look. Kobe's not going Rip Hamilton with it. He won't wear it a second longer than he has to.”
Tom Dienhart: “Congrats to Michigan on its first regular-season #B1G title since 1985-86? Where is Roy Tarpley?”
Bob Fescoe: “Doug McDermott's dad did not want to recruit him at Iowa State. No wonder Iowa State sucked under (Greg) McDermott."
Jason McIntyre: “All this Tiger talk is comical. A 62 in some irrelevant tourney? BFD. Somebody wake me when he does something in a major.”
FROM THE BLOG-O-SPEAR
The folks at Tauntr.com had some fun at the expense of the Boston Celtics with this bit of news parody:
Boston, MA--Following a season in which he swapped a 27 year-old up and comer for a peripheral player with an ailing heart, Danny Ainge is spending the 2012 season working overtime to trade sprightly all-pro Rajon Rondo for anyone interested in the luxurious comforts of a Naples time-share.
“It’s not everyday you find a deal like this,” said Ainge, while pouring over real-estate documents concerning the multi-unit high-end condominum complex, “Heated indoor-outdoor pool, on-sight golf course, free salsa lessons at the rec center. I feel like we’re just one piece away from assembling the perfect squad to secure the perfect retirement home.”
Ainge’s latest trade attempt centers around Portland paraplegic Greg Oden. “He’d be a great fit, “said Ainge, “KG is going to need another wheelchair buddy to pal around with. Plus, neither Ray, Paul nor myself want a ground unit, and his needing a ramp solves that problem.”
At press time, Ainge was furiously making phone calls, hoping to get the deal done before the weekend, when he’s certain some other group will make a down payment and ruin everything.
NCAA Division I basketball is way too big. We know because it is impossible to keep all these mid-major and no-so-major schools straight.
For example, the title game for the Big South Conference Tournament and a quarterfinal game for the Southern Conference Tournament were held at the same time Saturday in Asheville, N.C.
The latter game, with University of North Carolina-Greensboro beating Appalachian State, took place at the newly renovated U.S. Cellular Center. Meanwhile the University of North Carolina-Asheville was dispatching Virginia Military Institute at the brand new Kimmel Arena.
(The facility is named for Asheville businessman Joe Kimmel, not TV funnyman Jimmy Kimmel.)
“It was wonderful to win here at home,” UNC Asheville star J.P. Primm said. “I told Matt (Dickey, his teammate) this would be the best time of our lives. We were out there celebrating, crying tears of joy. The fans were great. There were times I couldn't hear the ball bouncing on the floor it was that loud.”
Next year the Big South will hold its tournament at a neutral site to be determined. This year the first two rounds were played on the campus of the regular season champion. The championship game was slated for the home court of the highest surviving seed.
UNC Asheville kept winning, so it got to stay on campus. This created some congestion at Kimmel Arena, which also hosted the SoCon women’s tourney this weekend.
The Asheville Citizen-Times elaborated:
Not to rehash all of the messy details, but Kimmel had been rented to the Southern Conference for its women’s basketball tournament. UNCA officials, not protecting the home-court interests of their men’s team if they earned the right to host the championship game, agreed with Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander's decision that if the Bulldogs advanced to the title game, it would be held on the floor of the opposing team.
UNCA chancellor Anne Ponder made a formal appeal to get the game back on her school’s campus, but only after the controversy was made public and there was an outcry from fans. Ponder said the Big South Conference presidents voted unanimously for that to happen, and then the Southern Conference decided to move one of the women’s games to Justice Center should UNCA need Kimmel for the Big South tournament.
Whew! When Asheville, N.C., is the scene of rival conference tourneys – creating a $5.5 million impact for the local economy -- March Madness is officially out of hand.
Here are some other signs that the Madness is upon us:
- The whole Butler phenomenon has chilled. The Bulldogs fell in the Horizon League semifinals to Valparaiso, which was Butler before Butler was Butler. Now boy wonder coach Brad Stevens and his 20-14 team will have to settle for a likely NIT bid. “Like I told the team in the locker room: There is not only room for growth, there is a must for growth,” Stevens told reporters.
- Big-name bubble teams celebrated Murray State’s 54-52 harrowing victory over Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. Had the Racers come up short, they might have earned an at-large berth and made the OVC a two-berth league. That might have cost, say, the Big East one of its 10 or 11 bids. So when the officiating crew opted not to call a charging foul on Jewuan Long on the game’s decisive bucket, reverberations were felt across the country.
- Florida Gulf Coast (the school, not the vacation destination) gave Belmont a scare during the Atlantic Sun conference title game. But Belmont prevailed 83-69 to win its fifth conference title in seven years. Apparently bored with the Sun, Belmont moves to the Ohio Valley Conference next season. The Northern Kentucky Norse move up from Division II to take its place in the Atlantic Sun, giving major colleges one more easy mark to schedule for non-conference “action.”
- Wichita State’s St. Louis nightmare continued with a semifinal loss to Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The No. 15 Shockers appear to have solid NCAA credentials despite this upset, but this school has suffered many indignities at the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee. This will be a nervous week in Wichita.
- In the America East quarterfinals, Maine hoisted 17 three-point shot attempts against Vermont. None fell. Maine lost 50-40. Such shooting accuracy goes a long way toward explaining Maine’s No. 282 ranking in the CBSSports.com RPI computation.