This weekend redefined the word upset like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain redefined the center position in college hoops. Before we delve into that discussion, let’s examine the best battle of big men not many people discussed during the first round of the tournament.
The most exhilarating ending from the Midwest region came at the culmination of the Arizona State – Texas clash. The Midwest’s best battle came down to a rare battle of beanstalks between Jordan Bachynski and Cameron Ridley.
Bachynski began the night as the nation’s leading shotblocker, but Ridley’s four blocks set the tempo. Bachynski chipped in 25 points, but if he’d recorded a second block in the waning seconds—as he did to beat Arizona, the Sun Devils may still be dancing. The biggest play of Ridley’s Longhorn career was the result of Ridley scouring the floor for a loose rebound, scooping it up and laying it off the backboard one second before Bachynski could swat it into the ether.
The regularity at which upsets occurred during the first week of March Madness has been exhausting and flipped national brackets upside down. if you end up owing Warren Buffet money, you have the Selection Committee to blame. Either they're terrible at seeding or maybe we should re-seed the top four after the first weekend because those soft first weekend mismatches for higher seeds didn't pan out as they planned.
After all of Coach K’s griping, the A-10 and ACC have just one representative each in the Sweet 16. Over in the Midwest, the power struggle between these two conferences was waged in the first round. The ACC was dealt a fatal blow when Mercer made Duke look like the little big brother.
The SEC, which I ranked outside my top five conferences in 68 Man March, dealt the first blow to the A-10 when 11th seeded Tennessee steamrolled past the UMass. In the literal sense of the word, it could be called an upset. However, the upset label doesn’t pass the basketball eye test.
Tennessee's “upset” of UMass was the preamble to the first marquee matchup of the weekend. It was highly anticipated for a number of factors. Wichita State’s unbeaten streak was an ancillary storyline to the new way of life in college basketball. The A-10 swung back when Saint Louis rallied to defeat NC State.
NC State has a loaded roster, but Kentucky is downright slothful. No roster represents the McDonald’s brand better than Kentucky. They’ve got half the 2013 McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster and those freshman will quickly matriculate from preps to pros like a true fast food drive thru hoops program would. Next year, a new crop will fill in.
Wichita State’s coach Greg Marshall has a soft spot for seniors. Wichita State’s star player thought college was so nice he signed up for it twice. Once with Sullivan County Community College and a second time with Wichita State over Baylor, Missouri and Alabama after being named Division II Player of the Year.
The dichotomy between Wichita State and Kentucky could best be epitomized by the contrast between Julius Randle and Early.
Early saved his best performance for last. In one afternoon, his draft stock spiked with every space-clearing jab step, fadeaway jumper, step-back move and soul-exorcising slam.
Ultimately, Randle’s five offensive boards overshadowed Anthony’s 31 points. The Wildcats starting five also played their best game of the season.
The beauty of the transition from college to the pros is that after four years of college hoops, Early and the runaway Naismith Player of the Year Doug McDermott will be on equal footing.
After his lone season in college hoops, Randle will likely be drafted before both of them. Yet, his Kentucky Wildcats entered the afternoon against Wichita State as the underdog No. 8 seed.
A few weeks ago, ESPN’s Bob Ley led a discussion over the N-word that included Jemelle Hill, Jason Whitlock and Ryan Clark. The Shadow League weighed in and I came down on the side that believed the N-word’s definition had been altered by recent generations.
"That's our word!" -- said every mid-major in America on Sunday.
The etymology of the term, “upset” should also be re-examined. This generation of mid-majors with attitude is redefining upsets in college hoops. Is anyone sure who can even say it anymore? If the Vols had beaten UMass on their home floor would it have been excessive for unranked Tennessee fans to storm the floor?
It’s all murky these days. The only way to rewind the clock would be the NBA raising its age limit or inserting a similar restriction as the one implemented by Major League Baseball, which allows high schoolers to go pro, but forces prospects who pot against the preps to pros path to wait three years until they can declare.
Experienced glue guys are becoming the new currency for wins. McDonalds All-Americans are the hottest commodity on the market, but they’re also volatile enough to rise or crash. John Calipari’s transition from national champion to NIT was a product of this gamble. Calipari bet it all on this recruiting class and the cats won him stacks. With four more wins, they can throw a c'hip in his drawer.