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Barely Alive, Our Bracket Marches On

Tuesday morning’s wakeup felt like being drenched by a bucket of ice-cold water. The only thing to do, in addition to a piping-hot shower, is to acknowledge I couldn’t have been more wrong about this NCAA Tournament.

Our premise going in was that when in doubt, take the higher seeded team to advance. The lower seeded teams wouldn’t benefit from the crowd support they usually receive. We’ve all seen it happen.

One of the great stories of the 2019 tournament (and now the 2021 version) was how Loyola of Chicago and Sister Jean were embraced by the nation. This is not to suggest those teams also happen to be better than seeded. But it certainly helps when the majority of fans in a 16,000-seat arena suddenly adopt you.

Could the Ramblers have done it without that backing? Well, they’ve done it again this year, albeit as a No.8 seed. Abilene Christian has done it as a No.14 seed. And Oral Roberts is just the second No.15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16.

We took some hits in our bracket. But, big but, we still have three of four Final Four picks – Arkansas, FSU and Gonzaga – moving forward. The early out of Illinois, which we had losing to the Gonzaga, in the title game. might be too much to recovery from. Since Arkansas (and Alabama) were popular picks, our fate probably depends on the No.4 Seminoles.

FSU might be the furthest thing from Phi Slamma Jamma but there’s a beauty to the way FSU wins. The Noles are a defense-first team. They switch everything. Offense is secondary. Coach Leonard Hamilton doesn’t reel in volumes of high school All Americans but he gets his guys to buy-in.

The Noles are making their third straight trip to the Sweet 16. Hamilton had his best team last season when the Noles went 26-5, won the ACC title and had Patrick Williams (No.4) and Devin Vassell (No.11) drafted in the first round.

They’ve got Michigan next in what will be a classic matchup of great offense vs great defense.

YIPS: Some things can’t be explained, like a golfer developing the yips or a pitching suddenly unable to find the strike zone. Ohio State was 44th in the nation from the line, making 75.6-percent of its free throws. But it was 62.9-percent in its final three games of the season and made just 50-percent (9-of-18) in a 75-72 loss to Oral Roberts.

 FAITH? This can be a little sensitive but the 10 “faith-based” universities in the tournament – Abilene-Christian (1-1), BYU (0-1), Georgetown (0-1), Gonzaga (2-0), Iona (0-1), Liberty (0-1), Loyola Chicago (2-0), Oral Roberts (2-0), St. Bonaventure (0-1), Villanova (2-0) have combined to go 9-6 in the tournament. Hmmm.

WRIGHT STUFF: Villanova became a popular pick not to advance to the second round, no less the Sweet 16, after losing point guard Collin Gillespie to a knee injury. When a coach has two NCAA titles to his credit, it’s a reach to state this is his best coaching job. The Wildcats still have terrific talent. But getting to this year’s Sweet 16 with wins over Winthrop and North Texas. Not the toughest first two games the Wildcats have faced but this is a reminder that Wright has built one of the best programs in college basketball.

HOPE NOT: After Iowa’s 95-80 loss to Oregon, Luke Garza, who should win Player of the Year, broke down in tears.

“I just feel heartbroken,” said Garza “With all the work I did that I couldn’t lead this team to where it needed to go. That’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”

The 6-foot-11 Garza scored 36 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including 3-of-4 in 3’s and 5-of-7 from the line. He did only have one assist as the Ducks opted to negate Iowa’s terrific three-point shooting, which means the shooters had to make good. Three-fifths are the starting lineup didn’t score.

Regardless, Garza had a wonderful career, representing himself and his university with class. Only win team wins this madness. No loss should haunt for the rest of a lifetime.

DOUBLE STANDARD? When a school has a good regular season, but is an early out in the tournament one of the common refrains is, “All it takes is one bad game, or one off night.” Yet when a conference has a good regular season but a poor postseason, it gets hammered.

Keeping in mind that nothing about this season was normal, consider the plights of the Big Ten and Pac 12. The Big Ten was the best conference in the country, placing nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. Only one – Michigan – is left. The Pac-12 placed five and has four teams left.

What irks us about the Big 10’s performance is how season-long flaws by a couple of elite teams that were never addressed came back to haunt. Illinois was 12th in the Big Ten in turnovers at 13.5 per game. It committed 16 in its loss to Loyola of Chicago. Iowa ranked 241st in scoring defense. It gave up 95 to the Ducks.

REVISED BRACKET: Gonzaga over Creighton; Oregon over USC

FSU over Michigan; Alabama over UCLA

Baylor over Villanova

Arkansas over Oral Roberts

Loyola Chicago over Oregon St.

Syracuse over Houston

Gonzaga over Oregon

FSU over Alabama

Arkansas over Baylor

Loyola Chicago over Syracuse

Gonzaga over FSU

Arkansas over Loyola Chicago

Gonzaga over Arkansas

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