NCAA Tourney First Weekend Observations

The first weekend of the of the 2012 NCAA Tournament is in the books, and it’s time to take a look back at some observations from the weekend.

Thursday was rather uneventful from a “madness” perspective. Just 2 of the 16 games resulted in upsets (based on seed numbers) and just 6 of the other 14 games resulted in single digit victory margins. I voiced my displeasure for this, and almost immediately we got the first upset of the day, which was nice. Overall though, not the craziness that was expected.

Friday was another animal entirely. This time 8 of the 16 games resulted in upsets, including two rarely seen #15 seeds over #2 seeds. It had only happened four times since the the expansion of the tournament in 1985, and hadn’t happened in 11 years when Iowa St. lost to Hampton. Two of these in one day is about as crazy as things could get on it’s own, but there’s so much more to the story. One of the #2 seeds was Missouri, who many people thought was one of the stronger #2 seeds, and whom many people had going to the Final Four at least. The other #2 seed to lose was Duke, who is essentially the New York Yankees of college basketball in regards to the way they are despised by fans of every other team.

Other significant upsets included #13 Ohio over #4 Michigan, #11 NC State over #6 San Diego St. and #12 South Florida over #5 Temple. The last of which was less significant because of the second round upset (it’s actually quite common for a #12 to beat a #5), but rather because it setup a #12 vs #13 game in the third round.

Although I mostly missed the games on Saturday, it was a continuation of Thursday, this time with zero upsets. Three of the eight games were decided by three points or less, but there were also three that were double digit margins.

Sunday on the other hand continued Friday’s “madness”. Although only 3 of the 8 games resulted in upsets, there were some close calls. Two #3 seeds fell, including Georgetown, who lost to #11 NC State. #1 seed Michigan St. and #2 seed Kansas both survived close calls. Like Saturday though, 3 of the games were decided by double digits.

When the weekend ended, there were two significant non-occurrences. There was not a single overtime game or a single buzzer beater. Nicole Auerbach retweeted a message from David Worlock that said “Since field expanded to 64 in ’85 there has never been an opening weekend without at least 1 OT game in the NCAA tournament”. Pretty incredible stat. I didn’t see any stats on buzzer beaters, and I highly doubt it was the first opening weekend without one, but I bet that it’s relatively rare.

Before we get to the week ahead, let’s talk about the major flaw with college basketball, that is even a bigger issue in the tournament, end game fouling. I understand that college basketball is very different than the NBA. The three-point line is slightly closer, which means many more players are capable of making them. Also, free-throw shooting is nowhere near as strong. So as games wind down, it becomes a full-on foul fest. Take the Lehigh vs. Xavier ending for example.

Lehigh cut the Xavier lead to 62-58 with 49 seconds to go and took a timeout. Lehigh immediately fouled and Xavier hit one of the two free throws. Lehigh missed a jumper, got the rebound and tried again. This time it was blocked, and Lehigh immediately fouled again. Xavier again hit one of two to take a 64-58 lead. After a quick three point attempt by Lehigh, that was missed, they again fouled. This time, Xavier hit both free throws to take a 66-58 lead with 25 seconds to go. After yet another missed three pointer, Lehigh again fouled. At this point they were down eight with 15 seconds left. Why would they foul?!? Lehigh would miss two more jumpers before it was all said and done. So to recap, Lehigh committed four fouls in the final 47 seconds despite not making a single shot. This was so unnecessary. This nonsense should stop.

Two of Thursday’s games feature #1 vs #4 seeds, otherwise known as “chalk”, but those games figure to be really good. Marquette vs. Florida should be exciting, and potentially high scoring. The battle of middle Ohio between Ohio St. and Cincinnati has some flair too. Friday features only one “chalk” matchup, #1 Kentucky vs. #4 Indiana. This game is epic if nothing else for the fact that it’s two of the most storied basketball programs in the country. Every other game features a top 3 seed against a double digit one. But #1 North Carolina is suddenly vulnerable after losing Kendall Wright to a broke wrist. I would consider making a bet that one of these double digit seeds pulls off an upset. My prediction is that the real madness happens this weekend.