March Madness Contest Update
The NCAA tournament gave us some outstanding basketball today. Wichita State had just a little more than they could handle from Kentucky, but proved they can compete with the elite programs and have nothing to be ashamed of. The good news there is it sets up a great Sweet 16 matchup between Kentucky and Louisville.
In what was probably the best game of the NCAA tournament, Roy William's Tar Heels fell to the Iowa State Cyclones. Iowa State was without Georges Niang, one of their better players, but UNC lost Brice Johnson to injury relatively early in the game. UNC began to pull away over the final 10 minutes and claimed an 8 point lead, but the Cyclones' Monte Morris got hot from 3 and brought them back. After completing an outstanding comeback, the Cyclones were clinging to a late 2 point lead when Robert Michael McAdoo was fouled and went to the line to shoot 2. The .536 FT shooter nailed both clutch FTs to tie the game. With about 15 second left to play, ISU PG DeAndre Kane, who already had 22 points, walked it up the court before slicing through the defense and hitting a contested lay-up to give the Cyclones a lead. UNC hurriedly passed the ball in, raced up the court, and (foolishly) called a timeout. The only problem...the clock froze when UNC passed it in. The referees went to work to see how much time to give UNC following the timeout and caught the clock error. After a little arithmetic, they subtracted the time that should have run when UNC caught the ball off the inbounds and correctly ended the game. It was extremely similar to the Clemson/Duke game a few years back, only the refs handled it correctly this time. It's good to see them turn to replay in these situations.
With all this action, our STS Readers and Writers March Madness Contest for the free t-shirt (below) is beginning to take shape. Frequent commenter and loyal reader, AParker, is tied for 1st place with myself (Ryan Kantor) and one other. I have the slight edge in points possible, but our Final Four teams are much different as AParker has Wisconsin and Iowa State making it, while I have Arizona and Michigan State. Quacking Tiger is right behind us trailing by only one point and right with us in points possible, but had UNC in his Elite Eight. He'll need UVA to make the Final Four to pull this one out.
Even if you don't win, you can purchase from the SB Nation store here.
In the SMU quadrant, four teams still remain. SMU, the #1 seed, will host LSU Monday at 9pm on ESPN. KenPom ranks SMU highest among all teams still alive in the NIT at 27th (they are also my original pick to win the tournament). LSU is a solid team, but KenPom gives them a tiny 23% chance to beat SMU in Dallas. Arkansas (KenPom #46) will travel to Cal (KenPom #76). Being played in Berkeley, this on has a 11pm tip. Though I would like to see SMU do well because I believe they deserved an NCAA tournament bid, I'd love to get another shot at Arkansas. I believe we've improved since we last played and we'd beat them on a neutral court.
The St. John's turned Clemson quadrant, got interesting today when #3 seeded Clemson edged #2 Illinois and advanced to the 3rd round where we face #5 Belmont. The Belmont Bears are only 92nd in KenPom and may be the weakest team we've played in the postseason. UNC and Green Bay are their best wins of the season. To their credit though, they're absolutely phenomenal from 3. In conference play, they hit an outstanding .422 of 3-pointers. They're 25th in the nation in the percentage of field goals attempts which are from 3 (3PA/FGA), meaning they will let is fly from range. Clemson's nation leading 3-point defense will be put to the test. That should be a fun game Tuesday night at 7 on ESPN.
Minnesota had a scare in their quadrant as they fell down by 14 early to St. Mary's, but managed to storm back by going 8-20 from 3 and outscoring the Gaels by 12 in the second half. The Gophers won 63-55. In the same quadrant, Southern Miss knocked off Missouri. Southern Miss is one of the smaller teams in the tournament as they go 6'7" and 6'5" in the post. It's somewhat amazing to see such a small team knock off one of the better SEC teams (Mizzou boasts 6'10" and 6'9" in the post), but that may be a commentary on the strength of the SEC after UF, UK, and UT. It'll be interesting to see Southern Miss can matchup against Minnesota, who I believe will make it to MSG.
Finally, Florida State's quadrant may be the most interesting of all. FSU and Georgetown have the 7pm ESPN game Monday night. That should be a good one to watch and sounds like a NCAA type matchup. The winner of that will face Louisiana Tech who advanced to the Elite Eight by beating UGA in Athens. As I discussed when the field was first set, UGA benefited from severe recency bias was probably not deserving of the #2 seed. Performance in the tournament is not a fair referendum on their resume, but it still feels vindicating after my previous rant. With FSU, Georgetown, and Louisiana Tech still alive, this has got to be the strongest quadrant at the moment.
Here's an updated version of the NIT bracket.