TSR’s running diary of March Madness, Part III

One thing that I failed to mention in yesterday’s recap was #13-seed Cleveland State’s upset of #4 Wake Forest. Now the headline at Fox News reads “Cleveland State Shocks Wake Forest” but the win isn’t really shocking at all. The Demon Deacons’ uneven play has led to several so-called “upsets” this season; they lost to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina State in ACC action. They were a combined 7-1 against the top five teams in the conference — Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College — so clearly Wake is a team that has a tendency to play to the level of its opponent.

But give Cleveland State credit, they came out like gangbusters, hitting three three-pointers in the first two minutes to give the Vikings a 9-0 lead. This is a team that only averages 4.9 made threes per game, and the Vikings had five in the first 10 minutes of action. (Oddly enough, they only made one more over the last 30 minutes.) The two teams played evenly for most of the game, and Wake Forest managed to cut the lead to six with 11:09 to play, but Cleveland State went on an 11-1 run over the next four minutes to push the lead back to 16.

This win is considered the first big upset of the season, but I was more surprised by how Dayton upended West Virginia, a team that numbers-wise — and I’m talking Sagarin and Pomeroy numbers — looked like it had the tools to make a run. Bracket-wise, I’m not doing all that well. Florida State, Ohio State, Utah State and Butler lost by a total of nine points and each had a few chances to move on but failed to capitalize. My picks aren’t dead yet by any means, 14 of my Sweet Sixteen and seven of my Elite Eight are still alive, so like anyone, I just need to hit two or three of my final four and have my overall winner (Pitt) come in. (And given how Pitt played against East Tennessee State, I’m not feeling all that hot about that pick!) Another key is that potential Gonzaga/North Carolina matchup next week. It would really help if Ty Lawson stayed hobbled, allowing the Bulldogs to pull the upset. It will be interesting to see if he plays today against LSU.

On the whole, my picks are suffering because teams with a 2+ point Sagarin advantage are just 21-8 (72%) so far this year. Usually, this system is right about 85% of the time. I was also just 1-3 when I picked games another way. I trumped a 2+ point Sagarin advantage in the Marquette/Utah State game, thinking that the Aggies would pull the upset (which they almost did) because the Golden Eagles were without Dominic James. I picked FSU because of the 3+ seed advantage (which is right 75% of the time) and picked Butler because of the team’s stellar road/neutral record (and a lack of confidence in LSU and the entire SEC). My picks lost those three games by a total of eight points. The game I nailed was the Oklahoma State win over Tennessee, and I picked the Cowboys because of better guard play. Byron Eaton came through big time.

I’ll be back later on (on this post) to blog some of the day’s action…

5:41 PM: I haven’t posted today because there wasn’t anything really to post about. Villanova spanked UCLA. UConn destroyed Texas A&M. The Wildcats were basically playing a home game, and ‘Nova jumped all over the Bruins. UCLA just couldn’t match Villanova’s athleticism and energy, and if Duke is fortunate enough to get past Texas, ‘Nova will give them all (or more) that they can handle. UConn just looked great. If 7’3″ Hasheem Thabeet can stay on the court, he’s a serious game-changer in the middle.

But the game of the day so far was the Washington/Purdue matchup in Portland. It’s frustrating when you’re rooting for a team and they trail the entire game but get it close at the end. It’s almost like they get off to a crappy start and have to expend so much energy just to cut into the lead that they don’t have the energy (or the poise, in this case) to tie the game up or take the lead. The Huskies squandered so many chances to regain the lead, and they essentially wasted their virtual home court. We have to give a ton of credit to Purdue for having the mental focus to come out so strong and be able to play the tough defense necessary to close the deal. There were no easy shots for Washington, and that’s a big part of what made the second half so frustrating for Husky fans.

Ty Lawson ended up starting (and North Carolina pulled away in the second half), but the story will be how that big toe responds over the next few days. He was not himself out there — he didn’t have the same burst and he was clearly bothered by the injury. It was funny to see the Duke fans going nuts when LSU was keeping the game close. I’m sure the North Carolina fans would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed. It’s what makes that Duke/UNC rivalry one of the best in all of sport.

6:51 PM: I think I overestimated the home court advantage that North Carolina and Duke would have in Greensboro. When both teams are playing at the same site, the fans of UNC are going to root against Duke and vice versa, which offsets any home court advantage that either team would have. I heard big chants of “air ball” when Gerald Henderson missed the rim, and I doubt the Texas contingent is big enough to make that kind of noise on its own.

When Coach K inserted Elliot Williams into the starting lineup, it came at the expense of Greg Paulus. He realized that he just couldn’t go with a backcourt of Paulus and Scheyer and hope to contain opposing guards on a consistent basis. Scheyer moved to the point and has thrived there. He’s not a pure point guard, but he has a “good enough” handle to get the job done. Meanwhile, while playing with Williams or Nolan Smith, it allows Scheyer to take the less athletic guard (or small forward) on the defensive end of the court. The move has made the Blue Devils a completely different team, though they will still struggle inside against big front lines. Kyle Singler is playing out of position, so it’s tough to ask him to guard a strong power forward and still put up 20 points on the offensive end.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga is scaring the crap out of me. They are down one with 11 minutes to play, and I have them beating North Carolina and moving on to the Final Four. Oi.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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