Dance Wrap: Round Two
The madness continues.
By Chris Deaton
It’s almost redundant at this point to lob any more superlatives at this Tournament.
Suffice it to say: spectacular.
Saturday provided Northern Iowa — henceforth known as the University of Awesome Names & General Sweetness — and a Gael-force wind that swept some big kids out the door.
And Sunday graced us with as zany a final minute as anyone will ever see, the continuation of an Ivy League dreadnought’s [not sic, seriously] demolition derby over power-conference cars, Boilering up and X marking its spot in the Sweet 16 — again.
Raise your hand if you’ve got a basketball jones.
Here’s an attempt at brevity from 20 for the win:
* Of course the little guys — who aren’t playing so little, really — will get plenty of props here, but it’d be remiss to not recognize Purdue’s advancement. This is a team that faced near universal doubts about their chances. Ws against Siena and A+M are nothing to scoff at, and though Duke has looked rock-ribbed solid thus far, we might be in for a dandy this Friday night. The loss of Robbie Hummel stung mightily, yes — but the Boilermakers have built for this 2010 run with a rounded roster, and Chris Kramer, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson haven’t gone anywhere.
* A breakout for Kentucky’s Darius Miller — an x-factor who could win his team this tournament — and ‘Cuse’s continued roll sans Onuaku are interesting storylines for these two clubs. On the subject of demolition derbies … could a rematch of the ’96 title game be on its way? With how this thing has unfolded, that has to be the odds-on favorite for the final pairing. Wait, on second thought, it can’t be, because for all anyone knows, Xavier will face Washington in Indy, and 2012 will have arrived a couple of years early. (Which brings me to a slight tangent of Chaz Steiner, just because.)
* Small-conference wonder has taken hold of this month. Seriously, who would’ve thought the Ivy and Horizon Leagues, the MVC and WCC would all be represented in the final 16? The more you think about it, though, the less surprising it becomes, and that’s a great compliment. Butler is proven, Cornell has freakish balance, Northern Iowa has boundless grit and St. Mary’s is red hot at the right time. If two of these guys advance to regional finals, there won’t be any shock here.
* Kansas didn’t fail — they were beaten, and with the way the majority of their Saturday game went, beaten soundly, despite the final margin. It was a classic case of being simply outplayed. But it’s impossible to deny the reality that the Jayhawks had no business finishing this short this early in the Dance, and every member of that team would surely say the same. This is absolutely no detraction from what Northern Iowa accomplished, but Kansas is Kansas, and what was a wire-to-wire sprint to the podium’s top has confusingly ended abruptly. Really, from number one to start the regular season and number one to finish to a second-round Tourney exit?
* Maybe Gonzaga didn’t have the tools to tackle Syracuse, but it was easy to figure that at least a challenge was in order. Instead, we got a sound rout — from the first half’s under-four timeout and on, the ballgame was never in contention. Defense was always going to be the ‘Zags’ ticket to an upset, and they surrendered 12 3s on 25 attempts. That’s a stat that can’t be overcome by any team in any game.
* New Mexico: making me look like a fool since March 20.
Not predictions, but subtle hints for next weekend …
1. Butler’s escape Saturday was precisely the sort of upset aversion that can propel a team far. There are two ways to look at that win over Murray State: one, Butler is lucky and showed weakness that will undoubtedly doom them against Syracuse, or two, Butler just knows how to win, and the fact that they picked off a couple of teams that lost a combined T-W-O G-A-M-E-S since January 16 is quite fantastic. I’ll take the latter. Syracuse is capable of beating Butler at Butler’s best — the Orange have that type of ability. But you’re crazy if you think anything else will happen for Boeheim’s bunch to make it to the West final.
2. If Kansas/Northern Iowa didn’t have the classic Hoosiers feel, Kentucky/Cornell sure as hell will. There’s just no guarantee that a Chitwood will send the Cinnamon forward.
3. It’ll be a tall task for Ohio State and Tennessee to reproduce the utter nutsiness of their 2007 Tournament game, but this year, the former could easily be a 1 seed and the latter should be higher than a 6. This has the makings of a terrific ballgame.