WHAT MARCH HATH WROUGHT – ALREADY
We still have another five days of conference tournaments to churn through, then the brackets are revealed, and then the world’s greatest sporting event gets started. But the Madness waits for none of that. We are off and running (and jumping, shouting, finger-pointing, buzzer-beating and celebrating) already. A brief synopsis of what we have learned in the last week:
Tom Crean (1) has been fitted for a black hat in postseason play. Video of the Indiana coach’s confrontation with Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer on Sunday – as Yahoo! Sports reported, the continuation of a disagreement in the handshake line – after a thrilling Hoosiers comeback victory was a nationwide buzz item Monday. (Best part: assistant Tim Buckley trying to cover the camera lens with his hand while dragging Crean away from the fray, like a lawyer hustling a celebrity defendant past the paparazzi and into a courthouse.) Crean proactively apologized to Meyer on the phone Sunday and to the public via the Big Ten teleconference Monday morning, but the video will stay in heavy rotation as long as the Hoosiers remain alive over the next month.
Prior to that, Crean caught flak for a net-cutting ceremony in Assembly Hall last Tuesday night to celebrate clinching a share of the Big Ten title – thing is, it followed a loss to Ohio State. Crean also had some words for Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft in the handshake line after that game. All this, coming on the heels of publicly questioning the Big Ten’s Player of the Week selection methods and the Cody Zeller/Derrick Nix GroinGate issue, has made Crean the least-liked Hoosier since The General himself. Of course, winning the league and locking up an NCAA No. 1 seed helps breed enemies as well. And frankly, the man is locked in on winning games in March, not winning popularity contests. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to assume the rest of the Midwest will be rooting for anybody but Indiana in Chicago this week.
The anarchy of the season (2) has trickled down to the mid-major and low-major levels as well, not just the high-powered leagues. In the 14 conference tourneys that started play last week, No. 1 seeds have lost in seven of them. And in five of those, the No. 1 seed didn’t even make the final.
There were 30 one-possession games in the first seven days of league tourney play, including five in the West Coast Conference and four in the Horizon League. Horizon fans have had their hearts tested four times: two games have been won on buzzer-beaters, one on a shot with 1.7 seconds left and another on a shot with 2.5 seconds remaining. When Valparaiso won its semifinal game on a 3-pointer at the buzzer, coach Bryce Drew – who has some fairly memorable March heroism in his past – wound up flat on his back on the sidelines, looking like he’d been shot.
Kentucky (3) is not dead yet, and will be the centerpiece bubble team in the Festival of Desperation that is the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville. The Wildcats’ steely, 7 ½-minute shutout of persistent folder Florida on Saturday in Rupp Arena propelled the defending national champions into most armchair bracketologists’ tourney fields. For now. A quarterfinal loss Friday in a tourney that promises to be a free-for-all could change all that. There are five bubble teams in the SEC, and the top seven teams in the league have gone a combined 2-28 against each other on the road. The lone wins were Mississippi at Tennessee back in January, and Kentucky at Ole Miss when it still had Nerlens Noel.
Duke (4) is stampeding, laying legitimate claim to the overall No. 1 NCAA seed since Ryan Kelly has returned to health. What the Blue Devils did to a hot North Carolina team in its own gym Saturday night was most impressive. If Tuesday were Selection Sunday, The Minutes’ four top seeds would be Duke, Indiana, Georgetown and Louisville. The No. 2 line would include Gonzaga, Michigan and two of the following: Kansas, Ohio State, Michigan State and Miami.
Middle Tennessee (5) will be the selection committee’s flashpoint mid-major after being upset in the semifinals of the Sun Belt tournament. Does it reward the Blue Raiders for sustained regular-season excellence – a 28-5 record, 19-1 in league, RPI of 28, a 13-5 road/neutral record? Or does it dismiss a team that owns zero RPI Top 50 wins and now has two RPI 100-plus losses (Arkansas State and Florida International)? The Minutes would prefer to see Middle Tennessee rewarded (like Iona last year) over a mid-pack team from a power league that has blown multiple chances to win enough games, but that is just one columnist’s opinion. The anxiety will be heavy in Murfreesboro from now until March 17.
Continue Reading: Forde Minutes: Mayhem comes before Madness (Yahoo! Sports)