In losing, Duke and Memphis saved this NCAA Tournament from the Chalk Plague. That leads today's SN column.
Duke losing is always a moment -- it's become an annual moment -- of best-of-the-year schadenfreude. To see them lose so...humiliatingly -- it makes it even sweeter.
Dan Wetzel is right: Duke is not a top program anymore. Coach K has weird recruiting tendencies these days; his Xs and Os has always been a little suspect. Basically, Duke is sort of like if Butler had McDonald's All-Americans: Jump-shots, and that's about it.
And when the jumpers aren't falling -- or the opposing team is so much more wildly athletic and/or deep -- the system breaks down.
Duke hasn't lost to a higher-seeded Tournament team in forever. If they aren't playing in North Carolina, they are mediocre.
Schadenfreude seems almost misplaced these days. They're not good enough to hate.
And that may be the worst insult of all.
As for Memphis? I'm just not a particularly big Calipari fan. I respect what they did last year -- even if they snatched defeat from victory in the national title game. I think it's amazing for the Tournament that they were run off the court. Mizzou is so fun to watch -- good for them. Let's hope Mizzou's success inspires more teams to push the tempo and play full-throat full-court D.
I think it's good for the Tournament that of the 5 teams that the majority of fans picked to go to the Final Four, the first one -- Memphis -- finally lost. It breaks the seal. We could still see all 4 1-seeds make the Final Four -- then again, we could also still see 4 Big East teams make the Final Four. I don't know which one would drive people more crazy.
Speaking of the Big East, the league put two more teams besides Nova into the Elite Eight -- UConn won, but didn't look particularly impressive doing it. Purdue plods -- I think UConn is in for a shock when they play Mizzou.
Pitt? They don't win pretty; they just win. Levance Fields has cojones of steel for taking (let alone making) that 3 at the end. Pitt already lost to Nova once this season, so you know the Wildcats can do it -- and Nova seems to be playing brilliantly right now. But conference-vs-conference games this late in the NCAA Tournament, it's a toss-up.
Tonight's games are going to be terrific, particularly the double-header of Syracuse-Oklahoma and UNC-Gonzaga.
As I have mentioned a hundred times, I have Syracuse winning the region -- I think their frontcourt is beefy enough to handle Blake Griffin, and Jonny Flynn is unstoppable. You bust the zone with amazing 3-point shooting and big men who can pass and shoot from the free-throw line -- Oklahoma has neither.
Meanwhile, I picked UNC, but if I had any guts, I would have taken Gonzaga. (I have Syracuse beating this game's winner anyway -- so where was my risk?) (1) Ty Lawson's toe is a huge unknown, and (2) the Zags play with more swagger than any team in the country. I think Gonzaga will win the game tonight. And there's your Quickie jinx, damn it.
(Actually, for bracket-pride purposes, I want UNC to win, because I think Syracuse can beat UNC -- I don't think Syracuse matches up nearly as well with Gonzaga.)
I am already bummed that on Monday, the NCAA Tournament is virtually over.
Complete column here. More later.