Dance Wrap: Friday Fall (Was Unavoidable)
You didn’t expect it to continue, right?
By Chris Deaton
Christmas only comes once a year, so this couldn’ta, shouldn’ta been as stupid-good as the lead-off spot, right? It’s like this: Imagine if Nadia Comaneci had to post consecutive 10s on uneven bars spaced between Death Valley and K2.
OK, that’s not remotely close to the challenge Friday faced in following Thursday’s antics, but the skyscraper task was the same. And it’s not like this Brachiosaurus of a first round tailspun into something awful. Welcome to the realm in which the 1993-1994 Bulls had to follow Mike — it was an admirable effort, and we couldn’t have expected more. Par can look poor in the shadow of spectacular.
* Even though their under-the-radar brethren wound up on the wrong side of the win column more often than not, one lil’ found a way to upstage a major big.
That “certain ESPN analyst” was right for at least a day, as a balanced — like, defense/offense, inside/out (from one guy, particularly), smart in biz school/smart in old school — Cornell club drubbed a Temple team I figured to be among the best 10 or 15 in the nation. Whether the Big Red can continue their Bunsen-burner shooting into the weekend is a coin flip, but that squad has already done enough to prove itself worthy of a spot alongside some of March’s best.
As always, the pairing of talent and experience rarely fails in the Dance …
* … Which is why Purdue still breathes. The Boilers/Siena game was the third in two days that featured an Indiana school on upset alert, but a a 23-point, 15-rebound effort from northern star JaJuan Johnson helped Hoosier programs improve to 2-1 in the Tourney’s first round.
As was mentioned yesterday, this was not your pop’s Siena Saints. What was a 32-29 contest in favor of professorial Fran McCaffery’s unit quickly became a five-point deficit 1:36 into half number two, after Johnson and guards Keaton Grant and Lewis Jackson recorded quick baskets. Siena was unable to find the extra gear — they scored 32 in the second half as well as the first — and Purdue flew by on smart shooting and good distribution fueled by the aforementioned Jackson, who dropped nine dimes while turning it over only once.
Yes, guard play wins tournament games.
* Out-of-the-azul happenings continued to make it hard to pick winners despite the top-heavier day. For instance, see Georgia Tech, which was positively Shaqtacular from the stripe on the year until torching Okie State for 24-25 en route to a 64-59 victory; an enigmatic Cal side, which continued to make the Big East look like a Big Chilly after blasting an even more enigmatic Louisville 77-62; and Xavier, which used some unclear combination of lockdown defense and Minnesota’s self-inflicted brickery (30.6 percent from the floor, in fact) to advance to the weekend, 65-54.
The New Developments
* The higher seeds began to assert themselves. Notwithstanding Tech’s and Mizzou’s triumphs, which came in evenly-matched 7/10 games, Cornell was the only school to pull a surprise. Even then, that triumph over Temple could hardly be proclaimed an “upset” — it was clear which side was the best (and most underrated) on the floor, despite my failed prognostication.
Still, Sweet 16-worthy? Against Wisconsin, definitely. Elite 8? Unless Kentucky melts like ice cream on a hot tin roof, nah. (And yes, that implies Wake Forest is not to be taken all that seriously.)
If anything, Friday was a restoration of balance of sorts.
* Gonzaga and the previously mentioned Cal looked like 8/9 victors ready to make a serious push toward the second weekend.
Scoring the ball has been the Zags’ bugaboo, but check this balance: 17 on 5-10 from Matt Bouldin, 15 on 6-11 from Steven Gray and 13 on 5-10 from Elias Harris. If the ‘Zags benefit from a similar trio on Sunday, madness could run amok on the West region. Still, it’s hard to bet on it — ‘Cuse showed that they can last without Onuaku.
Cal, on the other hand, has pure talent on their side. Once a top-15 team, it’s difficult to imagine that typically solid performances from Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher couldn’t at least put a scare into Duke (again, that “guard play in the Tournament blah blah” thing).
Never heard of them? It’s OK. West Coast bias, ftw.
* Who knows if Grevis Vasquez will fail to be Maryland’s headline-grabber again, but Friday, frosh Jordan Williams put a future stamp on his team. The rugged forward who quietly rode a near nightly double-double into the Dance threw his weight around to the tune of 21 and 17 in the Terps’ 89-77 win over C-USA tournament champ Houston.
Think it’ll be fun to watch him match pounds this weekend with Michigan State’s bulk platoon of Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe and Draymond Green?
A look-ahead to today
1. I figured it’d be Richmond in St. Mary’s position, but as it is, the Gaels have a golden chance to ride their momentum past a lagging Villanova. They’ll have the 1 o’clock time slot to themselves, before …
2. … Butler and Murray State display some more mid-major goodness. If you’re looking to watch a clinic on fundamentals, tune in.
3. Thank goodness Washington/New Mexico and BYU/Kansas State play during different hours, because these could be two of the Tournament’s most entertaining contests waged. My bets? UNM in a thriller and BYU in another Jimmer Fredette special.