Posts Tagged ‘ March Madness ’

Kendall Marshall’s wrist, Creighton, and the #PassFir5t movement

Silly as it seems, especially to the generation of Carolina fans who do not use Twitter, I would be lying if I said I had not been tempted to draw a 5 on my right wrist. The #PassFir5t movement has grown so large that I will refrain from addressing it at length until we know its conclusion, but without question, the events of the past week related to Kendall Marshall’s broken wrist will be seared into the collective memory of Carolina basketball history.

It remains to be seen how large a place in that history it will eventually claim; that depends, of course, on whether he plays and whether we win. Needless to say, it has the potential to rightly make Marshall one of Carolina’s most memorable and beloved players ever. Part of the reason I wanted to draw that 5 reflects how great of a teammate and likeable of a guy Marshall is, and how genuinely he seems to draw support from the movement. It is one of those moments I wish I was experiencing as a student, or at least a North Carolina resident.

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The (potentially) post-Marshall tournament

If not for one fleeting moment in Sunday’s game against Creighton, we would be reading stories this week on how North Carolina was the only team in the tournament to look as impressive as Kentucky in the opening weekend. Drowned out by the annoying group-think hysteria surrounding the Wildcats is the fact that for a few minutes in the second half against Iowa State Kentucky actually looked vulnerable. Kentucky made an impressive run that prompted the media to conveniently forget that part of the narrative, but nonetheless, Kentucky, like every other top team in the tournament looked, at least for a few moments, like it could possibly lose a game.

Every other top team, that is, except North Carolina. We jumped all over Creighton early and afforded ourselves the luxury of letting them back in the game – only in a relative sense – before burying them down the stretch. At no point did it appear that we could possibly lose the game. We were not vulnerable.

Most in the media have only made passing reference to this truth as they wish farewell to our chances at winning the national title, and for some even our chances at advancing to the Final Four. To their credit, a small minority have recognized that a logical conclusion of our outstanding showing this weekend is that we retain more than enough talent to win the matchups before us and continue to advance without Kendall Marshall. But I haven’t seen anyone write that we looked as good or better than Kentucky on Sunday; to most there is an ever-widening gulf between the Wildcats and the rest.

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The bracket

Staring at a printed bracket is a favorite pastime of mine, one that I will uphold stubbornly for the rest of my life, even though I, like most of the rest of America, host pools online now rather than score them myself. I enjoy the time it saves, and cannot rationally give that up, but to be truthful, I miss going through the brackets after each round and seeing each individual’s upset-predicting successes and failures.

A tale from my childhood illustrates the extent to which, at an early age, I acquired my love for a 64-team, single elimination tournament in the greatest sport in the world: I was once grounded during the second week of March, for actions unrelated to college basketball, and when I was grounded as a kid, it took the form of losing entertainment privileges (television and internet) for a period days. When she discovered that the period coincided with Selection Sunday and the week following, my mom realized that the punishment now far exceeded whatever my crime was. It wasn’t necessary to deprive me of my several days of preparation and then watching the opening rounds of the tournament, and the punishment was moved to a different time.

Anyway, below I have inserted my bracket, completed and finalized. For most of my life, I have been a so-called “one bracket kind of guy” who sticks with the same selections across all of his pools. Choosing to fill out more than one seems like an attempt to end up lucky, rather than trust your own bracket prowess. Fill out enough brackets, and one of them will emerge as a good one, but it takes skill to align what you truly believe will happen with what plays out over the three weeks of the tournament.

A few thoughts on the bracket, and on Carolina’s first weekend:

  • This is perhaps the least upset laden bracket I have ever filled out. I almost always pick a 12/5 upset, and I’m generally decent at hitting on it. I also enjoy taking at least one double-digit seed to the Sweet Sixteen, and I’ve had moderate success there, as well.  Neither occurs in my bracket this year, and most of it has to do with the matchups. The two twelve seeds with the best shot at advancing were Harvard and VCU, and both drew tough draws: Harvard catches Vanderbilt off their recent upset of Kentucky, and VCU catches fellow mid-major Wichita St., who also has much to prove and isn’t likely to be taken by surprise. It’s also a different year in college basketball than we have seen recently: the bubble was as soft as ever, yet the pool of good teams runs about 20 deep before there is a drop-0ff, deeper than it has been in the past few years. There is a larger than normal gap between the 1-5 seeds and the rest, and as a result I have only one true upset in my first round, which itself is only an upset according to seeds: N.C. State is better and more talented than overseeded San Diego State.

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March Madness

Trying to explain to non-college basketball people, especially up here, why March is the greatest month of the year is a difficult and often fruitless task, as I reminded myself before deciding to write a whole blog post on the point. For one, many elements of college basketball that separate its experience fundamentally from the NBA make it impossible to truly grasp it unless you know what it is to be a complete, all-in devoted identifier with a college sports team. The merits of that experience are thus better explained in anecdotal form, which hopefully will leave some time around April 3 as the proper date for me to explain exactly why March is the greatest month.

The primary element of the college game separating it from the NBA, in short, is the community and team oriented nature of college fan bases, as opposed to the individual-oriented fault lines of the NBA. More on that in a previous post here. This factor looms large when anticipating the potential late tournament match-ups of the historic programs, Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, Syracuse, etc., not only because of the talent on the floor, but because of the programs, the coaches, the fan bases, things that comprise each team’s identity. But that doesn’t entirely explain why I want to watch Murray State v. Colorado, with whom I have almost zero familiarity, during my lunch break on Thursday, but you couldn’t pay me to sit through an NBA first round playoff game between mediocre Eastern Conference teams.

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Random early March thoughts on college basketball

I stated at the outset that I was leaving the x’s and o’s and comprehensive analysis to the ESPN folks; this blog really is merely a personal journal of sorts recording experiences that are among the most important to me. However, since it is now March, when we are deluged with material to discuss, analyze and pick apart, some of it quite stupid, I will no doubt indulge my outlet here to share a random collection of thoughts on the season and the national landscape at regular season’s end.

The all-conference teams and the Sporting News All-America teams came out this week, and I hesitate to write too much on this since several more All-America teams are soon to follow. But a few glaring thoughts. I was surprised by the ACC media leaving Kendall Marshall off of the first-team (even barely), but only because of how much the conversation had shifted in his direction over the past two weeks. The tide of media opinion tends to sway in a massive exercise of group-think weeks before the votes, and on that measure, many were calling for Marshall to be in the POY conversation. Ultimately, Tyler Zeller turned in too many increasingly impressive performances for that to be an issue, but all the same, voting for Marshall for All-ACC, and even first-team All-America, was trending.

In hindsight, though, his second team appearance should not be surprising. None of the players in ACC history with similarly historic assist totals made the first team except Bobby Hurley, and he only made it his senior season with a 17 points per game average. I think the media got it right – Henson’s double-double average and status as the conference’s premiere defender and Barnes’ status as our leading scorer made them impossible to leave off. What Marshall is accomplishing this year is unprecedented and truly remarkable, but a guy who averages 7 points per game cannot match the production of Henson and Barnes. Marshall’s classy response indicates he understands that’s the way it works.

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