This was a crazy, crazy day. So many close games, so many buzzer-beater opportunities, so many upsets. We saw a 14, 13, two 11s and a 10 win a game, and a 15 took a game to overtime. Even a 16 seed with an RPI of 200+ was down by single digits against the best team in the country with about ten minutes remaining. Of the 16 games we had 11 that were close, of which nine were in serious doubt in the final 30 seconds, and three of those went to overtime. A full seven of the 16 games finished regulation with the two teams within one possession (three points) of each other. That's remarkable.
When so many games are coming down to the final possession there's just so much luck involved. If anybody in your bracket pool nailed 14 or 15 out of 16 then they were lucky - not good. I went 12-4 straight up and 8-7-1 against the spread, and in a normal year I'd be upset by that, but this year I'll take it.
Unfortunately, the historical trend has been that when the first day of the Tournament is full of upsets, the second day goes mostly chalk. Every coach of a higher seeded team is hammering home to his kids right now what will happen if they come out not fully focused. Every kid saw all of the upsets on television, or on Sportscenter. So expect a lot more chalk tomorrow.
A bunch of you have already passed along your thoughts on the day, and I'd be happy to hear more of them on this post, but here are some of my thoughts on particular teams and conferences:
Ohio: This was the shocker of the day. I've been talking up Ohio for a while, picking them as the sleeper of the MAC tournament and then saying in my NCAA Tournament preview, "Ohio is a very good team that is the best 14 seed in the Tournament. They'd be a good team to pick for an upset if they weren't matched up with Georgetown". I had figured that as good as Ohio was, Georgetown is just a terrible team to pick against because they're so consistent and so efficient on offense. Shows what I know. Ohio shot out of their minds here: 58% from the field, including 13-for-23 behind the arc. I'm actually shocked that they only shot 77% from the free throw line as a team because it seemed like they couldn't miss at the end of the game (over the final three minutes they were 11-for-12 at the free throw line as a team). Armon Bassett in particular was amazing: 32 points on 5-for-10 behind the arc and 9-for-10 at the line. Down the stretch he took almost every shot. Do you think Indiana could have used Armon Bassett back this year?
BYU: I don't want to talk about BYU too much because I already talked about them here, but obviously their performance today was disappointing. I think part of it can be attributed to nerves and expectations (it's hard to hear all week that everybody on the planet has picked you to break a seven game NCAA Tournament losing streak, and then perform up to your best), but the one thing that really worried me was defensive rebounding. I've been counting on their strong defensive rebounding (they were rated in the top ten in the nation) to be a big part of their Tournament run, and it just was not good against Florida at all. It's one thing to occasionally get out-athleted, but a few times they just forgot to box somebody out. They now head into a very tough game against Kansas State, but should they take that one then I think they'll be favored in a Sweet 16 game in Salt Lake City against anybody other than maybe Pitt, who they're better than anyway, particularly with the pseudo-homecourt advantage. And the fact that Arinze Onuaku will not play on Friday and might be out even longer means that Syracuse could be weakened for that Elite 8 game. So it could be worse. I still feel like I'd give BYU a 55% chance of pulling out the K-State game.
Villanova: Honestly, Villanova's performance might have been the worst of any team (relative to what they are capable of). Even Georgetown didn't play as poorly as Villanova, and simply just ran into a buzzsaw. Villanova played a Robert Morris team that didn't impress me for a moment, but it took some very questionable referee calls to save Villanova down the stretch. And when you consider how dominant Saint Mary's looked today in just dismantling Richmond, and that Villanova has absolutely nobody who will be able to guard Omar Samhan one-on-one, you have to view that second round game as a real potential upset. And unlike BYU, Villanova has just been playing poorly for a while now. They lost five of their last seven games coming into the Tournament, including a couple of truly awful performances (the games against UConn and Syracuse stick out in my mind as the worst). They haven't looked really good in more than a month, and so why should we believe they'll suddenly flip a switch on Saturday and play like they did back in the fall?
Big East: Obviously not a good day for the Big East. They went 1-3 with the three losses being a 3 seed (Georgetown) and two 6 seeds (Notre Dame and Marquette), and the one win was a 2 over a 15 who needed overtime and some questionable reffing. But that said, there are a few mitigating circumstances. For one, the Big East was just overrated by the media - it was not the best conference in the country this year just like it wasn't the best conference in the country last year. Second of all, part of the blame rests in the Selection Committee, which fell for the ESPN-generated Big East hype and over-seeded Villanova, Notre Dame and Marquette. Notre Dame in particular was outrageous, and probably the worst single seeding job of all 65 teams. If Notre Dame had been the 9-10 seed that they should have been then nobody would have been surprised to see them lose. I expected Notre Dame and Marquette to lose today. And Georgetown didn't even play that bad, and they simply ran into a quality team that had their perfect day. The only team I was truly disappointed in was Villanova - they were terrible.
Pac-10 and ACC: Small sample sizes, but a little bit of redemption for the two most underrated conferences this year. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy agree that the ACC is better than the Big East this year, although if you tried saying that on an internet forum you'd be banned for trolling (I know I've gotten a lot of heat in comments and e-mails for arguing it on my own blog). Duke is the only realistic ACC Final Four team, but the conference as a whole should end up beating their projected seed performance. And the Pac-10 has been wildly underrated as well. There's no question that the Pac-10 was way down, and it was the worst of the BCS conferences, but the sense we all got from ESPN was that it was worlds behind even the A-10 and Mountain West, which just wasn't true at all. California and Washington were both basically as good as New Mexico, but New Mexico was over-seeded because Jimmer Fredette got sick before the de facto regular season MWC championship game, and Cal and Washington were both under-seeded. I always talk about the Ben Wallace Rule, which is that if everybody calls you underrated then you quickly become overrated, and the converse of that is also true. No matter how bad a conference like the Pac-10 is, if everybody in the sports world spends all year killing it and cracking jokes about it, it eventually becomes underrated. If Cal wins tomorrow then we'll be hearing the "So is the Pac-10 better than we thought?" stories on Sportscenter.
Capitol One: A special mention for the most irritating company of the day. I don't know if the rest of you were switching around on the NCAA's March Madness live streams, but almost 100% of the time I switched between games I was forced to watch a 15 second commercial about the "Ivan Brothers" for Capitol One. I don't know if companies that buy that type of advertising realize how much it makes people hate their product. Capitol One spent all day keeping me from watching the games I wanted to watch. Pay for ads on the side of the screen, pay for ads on tv, but I can't fathom how those ads that you've forced to watch over and over and over again do anything but hurt a product.