I frequently make the cardinal mistake of listening to sports-talk radio when I drive, particularly in the Twin Cities. This last week, I was assured by someone—let’s baselessly say it was Justin Gaard of KFAN, with the knowledge that I’m about 49% talking out of my ass, hardly less than he or boss Barreiro on a good day—whose job is to yell bad takes wildly about shitty things without substantiation, that the Sweet Sixteen would be better because the “Big Boys” were playing in it.
One out of four ain’t bad.
We’ll give Purdue-Tennessee a pass, even though it involved a fantastic 18-point collapse by Purdue, who desperately tried to be themselves before Ryan Cline lost all semblance of consciousness all over the Volunteers’ faces.
The rest? Jesus, if that’s what the Big Boys can offer us, I’ll pass.
It started innocuously enough, with Gonzaga-Florida State treating us to a slow strangulation—the Seminoles shot 3/20 from deep, 39% overall, and committed 14 turnovers and 20 fouls. Gonzaga was hardly better, though a good amount of their success came from getting Rui Hachimura and Jordan Perkins to the free throw line. But fine, whatever. Gonzaga wins, 72-58, and we can chalk one bad game up to decent defenses.
Then 8:30 came around, and if you threw your TV out the window, I don’t blame you.
Let’s circle back to Texas Tech-Michigan in just a moment. Once again, though, let’s stop and appreciate just how terrible Virginia-Oregon was. Two teams who we knew would play terrible basketball—the line was 119, hardly a harbinger of good hoops!—combined to do even worse than that, coming up with a 53-49 Virginia win that was tied 7-7 at the under-12 in the first half, that had a combined 18 threes on 58 attempts (33 of those by UVA!), that by Kenpom’s “Thrill” rankings netted an abysmal 58.1 score, last on the night by an order of magnitude from any other game.
That’s not basketball. That’s a cynical wrestling match, where two coaches who have learned to game the college system by playing defense with tackling unsurpassed by their schools’ football teams—though that’s not fair to Oregon, which gamely chose the handicap of employing Brady Hoke as a defensive coordinator.
Here is, roughly, that game encapsulated:
At least Texas Tech-Michigan had an air of actual defense, if just because Chris Beard’s club plays hard-nosed defense, moves the ball on offense, and stays on its feet, opting to alter shots without mimicking a CONCACAF soccer game.
But that’s damning with faint praise. Michigan, supposedly one of those “Big Boys” we should be happy to see in the NCAA Tournament, made a single of their 19 three-point attempts—by walk-on C.J. Baird in the closing seconds of the game. The Wolverines had no points off Texas Tech turnovers. Zavier Simpson missed approximately 109 of his usually-automatic sky-hooks, though the boxscore tells me he was only 0/5. Tech, barely to their credit, managed to crack the usual 3-point percentage allowed by Michigan (29%), knocking down a whopping 6 of their 19 attempts from distance.
It was 6-6 at the under-12. It was 24-18 at halftime. Even with an over/under of just 125 points, the over was never in severe danger—even a 12-2 run by the Red Raiders to put the game out of reach at the under-16 did nothing to make anyone sweat.
Texas Tech and Michigan were, by Kenpom, the fifth- and seventh-best teams in the country. By the NCAA’s own NET ranking, they were tenth and ninth. And they put on the court a 63-44 pasting; a 107-point combined effort that was purely academic by the 10-minute mark of the second half and that had me actively wondering “Should I switch over to Virginia-Oregon?”
These were two of the best teams in the country. These were the storylines I was supposed to wait for. These were the teams America needed to watch, not a plucky upstart from the Missouri Valley or Atlantic-10—or, going just by this year’s Round of 32, from the Big West or Ohio Valley.
Tomorrow we’ll try again; perhaps with the lowest over/under at 134 (for Houston-Kentucky) and two teams—UNC and LSU—in the Top 25 of Adjusted Tempo playing, we’ll be treated to something approaching the fast, open, high-level basketball that we were promised with a Sweet Sixteen full of the “Big Boys.”
Or maybe watching Gonzaga, Virginia, and Texas Tech cynically pack-lining and foul-drawing their way to the final is what we’re supposed to admire. In that case, let’s hope Houston and Kentucky live up to their potential for low-scoring ball.
After all, one out of four ain’t bad.