Saturday, March 23, 2013

3/24 (Wichita State!) Quickie

There is always this moment of hindsight -- when my bracket basically implodes -- when I wonder "What was I thinking?"

Saturday night, that was when Gonzaga -- a team I picked to go to the Final Four -- lost to Wichita State. The Shockers totally earned it, out-playing the top seed in the game's final minutes.

Why did I buy Gonzaga? Why did I ignore their decade of underachievement in the tournament? Why did I buy into this year as different?

In retrospect, my strategy in that region should have been "Anyone BUT Gonzaga."

And so it will be Wichita State playing the winner of Ole Miss and LaSalle for the right to play the winner of Arizona and (presumably) Ohio State to go to the Final Four. Amazing.

It was an awesome night for the NCAA Tournament. A 1-seed losing in the first weekend is big enough, but the Butler-Marquette slugfest -- ousting the Bulldogs -- was an instant classic.

Speaking of shockers (sorry), it was jaw-dropping to see Brad Stevens' team execute so poorly down the stretch. Credit Marquette -- I can't help but think that the buzzer-beating loss to Butler in the preseason gave Marquette that extra edge they needed to push through to the finish.

Meanwhile, I also lost Saint Louis. Oregon is very good. It finally dawned on me that folks griping about Oregon being "under-seeded" had it entirely backwards.

Being under-seeded is a huge advantage. Sure, you start with a 5, but presuming you get past that -- as 12-seeds tend to -- you are playing a 4, rather than a 1- or 2- or 3-seed, which you would if you got seeded "accurately."

And so instead of playing Louisville (and presumptively losing) or playing Duke (and presumptively losing) or playing Michigan State (and presumptively losing), Oregon draws Saint Louis -- a scrappy team of extraordinarily hard workers totally ill-equipped to keep pace with the Ducks' athleticism.

Oregon is in the Sweet 16 BECAUSE they were under-seeded, not DESPITE being under-seeded.

Somehow, my bracket is hovering near the 70th percentile. (I picked Marquette over Butler, but lots of people did, too.) But that ranking will change with every round Gonzaga isn't advancing toward the Final Four I predicted for them -- and shouldn't have.

Among the stronger feelings engendered by the tournament -- "Shoulda." It is frustrating, but helps contribute to what makes it so great.

In the end, I'll trade my mediocre bracket for thrilling nights like this every time.

-- D.S.

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