Saturday March 22nd, 2008

Five things we learned while having our laptop crash and spending the wee hours at the amazingly cool 24-hour Mac store next to Central Park:

Siena over Vanderbilt might have been the most unsurprising 13-over-4 blowout in NCAA history. The Saints' victory over Vandy was just as expected as 12th-seeded Manhattan's takedown of Florida in 2004. Part of it was due to Siena's resume (a win over Stanford), part was due to its success away from home this season (as Luke Winn pointed out earlier this week), and part was due to the Commodores' manifold troubles away from their quirky home gym. Still, I can't say that I expected an 83-62 demolition in which Vandy was never even close, but this was Tampa Bay, aka The New Boise, where elite teams (Clemson, Vandy, UConn, Drake) didn't stand a chance on Friday.

This interim head coach business didn't go so well for Indiana's Dan Dakich, but it went even worse for the IU athletic department. Remember when people were writing that Indiana was a genuine Final Four contender? That was only one month ago, but it seems like a decade. Few good teams have had a more public implosion than the Hoosiers had in the wake of Kelvin Sampson's mid-season departure. You knew it was a bad sign when the players initially threatened not to play unless Sampson was retained or, failing that, unless Ray McCallum was promoted to interim head coach instead of Dakich. And, in the end, some of them never did really play under Dakich. (Didn't you used to be Eric Gordon?) But I fault the Indiana athletic department more than Dakich, the players or anyone else. If AD Rick Greenspan was going to force out Sampson, he should have done it last fall when the alleged violations came out, not in the middle of the season. And by announcing a search committee for the next coach before the season was even over, Greenspan ensured that this Hoosiers outfit was a Dead Team Walking. Well done, Rick Greenspan!

Mississippi State will give Memphis trouble on Sunday. "Don't sleep on Mississippi State, Grant," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl told me two weeks ago. "That's a really, really good team." BP's certainly right, judging by the Bulldogs' 76-69 win over Oregon, in which Miss State overcame a 13-point second-half deficit and a horrid offensive game by Jamont Gordon (2-14 FG). Charles Rhodes (a career-high 34 points) is going to be a tall order for Memphis' Joey Dorsey on Sunday, and the Rhodes-Jarvis Varnado inside combo could give the Tigers fits. If Gordon recovers to play halfway decently against Memphis, then this game will be close throughout.

There's no better way to watch the first week than in front of 13 HD televisions showing all the games. We'll be forever spoiled after spending the week for the first time at the CBS studios in Manhattan, where we're able to see everything and choose which game's sound we want to listen to. (Plus we can walk down the hall and heckle our pal Seth Davis in the studio.) Many thanks to the folks at the Eye.

More evidence that what passes through my mind during games isn't entirely normal. We don't know what to make of Arkansas' punky 7-foot defensive specialist Steven Hill, but for some reason we're mightily intrigued. Dude looks like he should be wearing flannel and playing drums for a grunge band. ... So I guess Malik Hairston didn't Carmelo-ize Oregon. ... Loved that microphone in the Arkansas-Indiana game, which caught such gems as: "And-one, b----!" ... We hope the television gods do our man Gus Johnson right and give him a down-to-the-wire game on Saturday. Poor Gus didn't get to call a single upset on Thursday, and we can't go an entire tournament without hearing the clarion call of the endearingly over-the-top play-by-play man.

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