Lessons learned from the twists and turns of the NCAA tourney second round
- The Big Ten is better than most thought, Wichita State was criminally underseeded and more lessons we learned from the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The first weekend of the NCAA tournament ended, as it always does, with nobody caring about your bracket, unless you are ACC commissioner John Swofford. Then we’d really like to see your picks, please. We bet you made some foolish predictions, like Duke to win the championship, Louisville to make the Final Four, Notre Dame to make the Elite Eight, and Virginia to make a basket.
The mighty ACC is sending one team in the Sweet 16. The Pac-12 is sending three, the SEC is sending three, the Big 12 is sending three and the much-maligned Big Ten is also sending three, despite some rough seeding. What can we learn from this? Life lessons, of course. We’ll get them straight out of the mouth of the nearest college basketball coach, as soon as he gets off the phone with his agent.
LIFE LESSON NO. 1: You’re never as bad as you seem or as good as you seem.
If we’ve heard one coach say this, we’ve heard 100 say it. But it is true—the ACC is not as bad as it looked this weekend, and the Big Ten was better than people claimed all winter.
The Big Ten had as many good teams as any league in the country. That Michigan team that everybody is raving about now finished 10–8 in the Big Ten. Indiana, which got beaten up in the league, missed the tournament and fired its coach, also beat North Carolina and Kansas. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan may have been the best player in the country all season. And go ask Villanova if Wisconsin is only an eight seed.
The Big Ten had what it almost always has: Amazing depth. Critics rightfully say the Big Ten has one only won national championship since 1989: Michigan State in 2000. (Maryland won in 2002, but as a member of the ACC.) It’s an amazing stat, and for the Big Ten, it’s an embarrassing one. But the league has consistently placed teams in the Final Four: since 1999, six Big Ten programs have made the Final Four (seven if you count Maryland), for a total of 17 Final Four appearances.
And yes, we should have known the ACC was overrated (and overseeded) when Virginia got a No. 5 seed and nobody outside of Charlottesville thought the Cavaliers could make a run. But the ACC still has a chance to win the national championship. North Carolina can do this. And if the Tar Heels don’t, then guess what? The ACC has still won seven titles since 2001 (and eight if you count Maryland). That league will be just fine.
LIFE LESSON NO. 2: I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.
Mike Krzyzewski said that a few years back. I think he was hawking credit cards at the time. Alas, this year his Duke team really could have used a basketball coach.
Coach K is the most successful coach of his generation. It was hard to tell Sunday. His Blue Devils didn’t just play poorly—they looked like they had never played together before. In a decade, when Jayson Tatum is playing in his seventh NBA All-Star Game and several of his Duke teammates have carved out nice pro careers, this loss to South Carolina will make even less sense than it does right now.
LIFE LESSON NO. 3: You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.
Xavier’s Chris Mack was a high school coach. So was Michigan’s John Beilein. South Carolina’s Frank Martin was a bouncer. Caleb Swanigan was morbidly obese when he entered high school. And now they are all in the Sweet 16.
LIFE LESSON NO. 4: You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a team by its KenPom offensive and defensive ratings.
This comes from Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, our current master at teaching beefy balding guys how to compete against NBA prospects. Tenth-seeded Wichita State took No. 2 seed Kentucky to the final seconds, which led to the question: How on earth did Wichita State get a 10 seed?
Actually, wise basketball minds were asking that question last week, and so was I. Run any numbers you’d like: Everybody paying attention knew Wichita State deserved a better seed. It’s easy to take shots at the selection committee, but this was an obvious mistake from the start.
LIFE LESSON NO. 5: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. If you try, he’ll put his chin on his hand, grumble in a monotone and never go away.
Hello, Jim Boeheim! We see that you will not retire from Syracuse next year after all.
Syracuse announced that Boeheim will keep coaching because his designated successor, Mike Hopkins, left for Washington. Syracuse needs to look up the definition of “because.” This is like saying your computer broke without mentioning that you threw it out a window. Boeheim never wanted to leave.
So now Washington gets a bright coach, and an extremely personable guy to replace the well-liked Lorenzo Romar. Boeheim gets to do the only job he ever wanted for another 30 years. NCAA investigators get to stay busy. Everybody wins!
LIFE LESSON NO. 6: Good things come to those who wait. But not to ALL those who wait.
Gonzaga and Arizona are one game away from a somebody-has-to-win Elite Eight game. Gonzaga has never made the Final Four, and Arizona keeps running into a wall in the Elite Eight.
LIFE LESSON NO. 7: When you run out of silly “life lessons,” remind your readers that they can watch Kentucky’s comically fast De’Aaron Fox face UCLA’s absurdly brilliant Lonzo Ball Friday night, and if you can’t enjoy that, you are legally dead.