Day 2: The Big (Red) Comedown
NEW ORLEANS -- Five things we learned on day two of the NCAA tournament ...
1. Friday was when the Tourney Gods decided we'd had enough fun for one round. Cornell's upset of Temple was all we got -- a nice No. 12-from-the-Ivy over a No. 5-from-the-Atlantic 10 -- but it had a different feel than Thursday's mid-major upsets. There was a sense that what No. 14 Ohio did to Georgetown and No. 13 Murray State did to Vanderbilt were the defining moments of those two Cinderellas' tournaments. That they needed to be feted right then and there, before the magic ran out. With the Big Red, you get the sense that they aren't done. That if they don't reach the Sweet 16 it's reasonable to be disappointed. Because they looked powerful in that 78-65 win over the Owls, and their Sunday opponent, Wisconsin, looked rather weak in a 53-49 squeaker over Wofford.
Those of us who picked against Cornell were kicking ourselves watching Thursday's game. We should have ignored the numbers that said Temple was far superior defensively, or the fact that the Big Red lost by 19 (to Missouri) and 24 (to Stanford) in their NCAA trips the previous two years. Cornell had the offense, the poise, and the experience: Its four senior starters -- point guard Louis Dale, forward Jon Jacques and Ryan Wittman, and center Jeff Foote -- had been building up to this tournament for their whole careers, and they calmly dismantled the Owls. As SI's Andy Staples wrote from Jacksonville:
Don't be afraid to fall in love with Cornell. I know you've been hurt before. Hey, we all have. Some double-digit seed stole your heart on a Friday in March and then smashed it to pieces it two days later by playing valiantly -- but ultimately losing -- to a more athletic, better-funded program. But 12th-seeded Cornell is different. ... Come next week, Cornell might still be in your life.
Wisconsin fans -- my father being one of them -- are worried about the other Big Red. He flew down to Jacksonville in a Badger-fan friend's four-seat plane to see the games. When I told him, earlier in the week, that I was scared of his mode of transport, he dismissed my concerns. He'd end up losing his breakfast from all the turbulence, but when I talked to him on Friday night, all he seemed scared about was Cornell. "I'm not sure," he said, "if the Badgers are going to make it out of here."
2. It's my nature to try to find some kind of numerical explanation for what happened in the Cornell-Temple game, so I settled on this: Highly efficient defensive teams with really bad offenses -- like the Owls -- have not been good of late in the dance.
Since kenpom.com started tracking efficiency numbers in 2004, just 10 teams have made the NCAA tournament with defense ranked in the top 10 and an offense ranked outside the top 80. Eight of those teams lost in the first round. The 2005 version of Iowa State won its first-round game in part because it played a Minnesota team that's also on the list. The current version of Tennessee, which beat 11th-seeded San Diego State on Thursday, is the only other winner.
The list below looks at the 10 teams' profiles; you'll note that the only two teams there that received seeds of No. 5 or higher are the Owls and the 2006 Iowa Hawkeyes. They lost to 14th-seeded Northwestern State on a classic buzzer-beater, eliciting Verne Lundquist's famed "Northwestern Wins!" call that accidentally referenced my NCAA tournament-barren alma mater.)
Adj OffEff Adj DefEff NCAA Lost
2010 Team (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) Sd. in Rd#
Florida St. 105.2 (118) 83.9 (1) 9 1
Temple 107.4 (81) 85.7 (3) 5 1
Tennessee 106.3 (98) 87.4 (8) 6 -
Illinois 105.9 (98) 86.5 (4) 12 1
S.F. Austin 95.2 (264) 88.1 (8) 14 1
Illinois 106.3 (111) 84.7 (3) 12 1
Iowa 104.0 (129) 84.4 (1) 3 1
Southern Ill. 102.8 (148) 88.2 (9) 11 1
Iowa St. 103.9 (127) 86.8 (6) 9 2
Minnesota 104.2 (123) 87.4 (10) 8 1
3. If you added up all the time refs have spent in scorer's-table conferences this season the total would probably be hours, not minutes. In many cases the matters being discussed were trivial. And yet when there's a critical timing question that needs to be addressed at the end of Michigan State-New Mexico State in Spokane, they choose to let it go? The lane-violation call on Aggies forward Troy Gillenwater that preceded the final sequence -- and allowed the Spartans to take a three-point lead at 70-67 -- was shocking but ultimately correct.
What the refs needed to do, though, was put three-tenths of a second back on the clock after the ball was knocked out of bounds on New Mexico State's final possession, following Hernst Laroche's missed three. The game time was allowed to run down to 0.3 seconds rather than the correct 0.6 -- meaning that the Aggies didn't have time to take another three and send it to overtime. The odds of that happening were long, but the Aggies should have been given a chance.
4. Second-round point-guard battle that I'm heartbroken not to be able to see: Ohio State's Evan Turner, who's a guaranteed top-five draft pick, against Oklahoma State's Keiton Page, whom I wouldn't even guarantee to be 5-foot-5. If Page were a mid-major gunner whom fans discovered for the first time in the dance, he'd be more of an Ollie-like cult figure, but he's been too exposed by playing in the Big 12. Alas, he won't get to meet The Villain on Sunday: Page's Cowboys were bounced from the bracket by an underacheiving Georgia Tech team that could get killed by the Buckeyes.