College basketball enthusiasts like myself are still eating. After the Thanksgiving serving of holiday tournaments, our DVRs are full of games left to digest. I employ anyone like myself to also check out ESPN3’s replay function, where a ton of under top 25 games are available to watch. Take, for example, a classic matchup in Massachusetts vs. Harvard recently. Although these teams are quote unquote “Bay State rivals,” it was the first time since the early eighties that the Minutemen visited Harvard’s gym. Harvard’s leader, Wesley Saunders, made a clutch basket and a few key free throws to win the game. Because I pride myself on watching these games, this is the type of situational basketball I love to SEE. Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker got the ball in his leader’s hands at the end of the game.
But, unfortunately, this blog cannot be dedicated to raving about every basketball team in the land. I have to be critical at some point, because on the first Thursday and Friday we’ll all be eliminating 32 teams in our bracket. The teams that did not get the ball to their big weapons late in games are two giants in our game: North Carolina and Michigan State.
UNC lost to Butler in Atlantis during a holiday tournament. Normally we would chalk this up to “Butler being Butler,” but I’m going to throw a flag on this upset specifically. If recent history has taught us anything about the anatomy of an upset, it’s that some basketball teams do not respond well early in the day. Just like the “Eye Test Tuesday” tradition itself, basketball players like getting into a rhythm and act as creatures of habit. However, March Madness is all about cracking that habit. A huge upset that comes to mind is when 10-seeded St. Mary’s defeated 2-seeded Villanova in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. At the time, Jay Wright’s bunch led by point guard Scottie Reynolds was a vogue pick to make the Final Four. But, this game was played at one o’clock eastern time and, if you remember being in college, that might as well be 8 a.m. The sand trap of the first slate of games captured the Wildcats. Going back to this UNC loss, they struggled to find their identity. Although big man Kennedy Meeks averages almost 14 points on the season, he struggled to score just 7 in this one (a season low).
The same was true in Michigan State’s mind-boggling offense against Kansas late in the Orlando Classic Championship game. Folks back in Flint, Michigan could hear Dick Vitale hollering for the Spartans to feed Brandon Dawson the ball late. But they didn’t. Kansas won a game which was, in reality, much closer than it should have been. Travis Trice made a fast-break three pointer to make the score look closer than the play dictated.
Because I’m a basketball junkie, I like listing things in increments of five. Therefore, I’ll round out this Eye Test Tuesday with three more highly-ranked teams that I think are suspect. I believe the Florida Gators have lost way too much in terms of veteran scoring to justify its 40 votes in the latest top 25 ranking. Utah, although I listed them as a preseason darling, really disappointed when I watched them against San Diego St. Delon Wright went 2-13 from the field, not scoring in the first half in that game. It was an offensive dumpster fire and I personally don’t see how the loser of that ranked matchup can remain in the top 25 (currently 25th). And, lastly, I really don’t believe Miami is the number 15 team in the nation. Did it ever occur to you that Miami ranked 15th and Illinois ranked 24 could have something to do with their primetime matchup tonight on ESPN? Maybe the match of these AP rankings and the primetime programming have some odd connection? I am not convinced just because Miami beat Florida in some last minute heroics by Angel Rodriguez. They 7-0 resume includes more cupcakes and back-to-back wins against Charlotte (the last in which they squeaked out a two point win). These are the sort of gold glove-styled rankings. By default, Miami earns a 15 ranking, plays Illinois which also falls into a 24 ranking, and these teams are grandfathered into the top 25 for weeks to come. I encourage more AP voters to watch the tape on teams like Wyoming, Green Bay, St. John’s, Georgetown and, yes, vote with your eyes.
In closing, I’d like to specify that all of these teams have incredible kids that make the game so fun to watch. Even though I write about so-called flaws to the UNC and Michigan State’s of the world, I do so knowing how high these programs have raised the bar over the decades. Kennedy Meeks would beat me and two of my clones 11-0 in one-one-one. I am merely parsing out the cream of the crop as I try to brainstorm months in advance what the bracket could look like. Enjoy the games everyone!