What we learned
Tourney drama alive and well; Heels show toughness
Posted: Saturday March 17, 2007 11:55PM; Updated: Saturday March 17, 2007 11:55PM
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Five things we learned on the day Gus Johnson finally started sounding like A.C. Green on his wedding night:
1. The NCAA tournament still provides the most compelling drama in American sports. The 'Bag can't begin to describe how depressed we were on Thursday and Friday as the top seeds won almost every game by a huge margin. Thankfully, Saturday went a long way toward making up for it. Overtime games galore, No. 1 seeds on the ropes, star players acting like it: It was exhilarating for fans (and, yes, media types). If you didn't enjoy Saturday's games, you weren't alive.
2. Xavier should have fouled at the end of regulation. It's hard to criticize Xavier coach Sean Miller after his team played such a sensational game against Ohio State, but the 'Bag can't understand why Xavier didn't foul an Ohio State player before Ron Lewis squeezed off his game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation. Coaches are often control freaks to their detriment in the final seconds -- witness anybody who calls timeout when an opponent goes up by one with six seconds left instead of attacking an unset defense -- but Miller should have asserted his control and told his players to foul. The only bad things that can happen are 1) your guy is dumb and fouls too late, letting his man get into his shooting motion and draw three free throws, or 2) the free-throw shooter makes his first and misses his second on purpose to create a put-back offensive rebound.
Let's be honest: What are the chances of those two scenarios happening? Not good at all. What are the chances of Lewis hitting a game-tying three? A lot better. Why Miller didn't have his guys foul OSU is beyond me.
3. North Carolina isn't soft after all. Remember when Marcus Ginyard was questioning his teammates' toughness a few weeks ago? He was right: the Tar Heels weren't getting to loose balls, weren't fighting for rebounds, weren't giving the impression that they'd fare well against an a**-kicking team like Michigan State. Well, there were those same Heels on Saturday toughing out an 81-67 win against the Spartans by three in the second half. Reyshawn Terry fought off excruciating migraines and got some big baskets down the stretch, while Tyler Hansbrough scored 33 big ones, went to the line 17 times and even got banged in the face (without extra damage) after abandoning his fright mask. So maybe Brandan Wright (three points, seven boards) still struggles against tough teams, but Carolina has plenty of other answers. We can't wait for a UNC-Texas showdown if the Longhorns can take down USC on Sunday.
4. Roy Hibbert has nerves of steel. The 'Bag has a man crush on Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 gentle giant who reminds us more of a plant-eating brontosaurus than a carnivorous T-Rex. We're OK with that, though. Hibbert has a sixth-sense that tells him exactly when the shot clock will go off, which explains his ability to hit two huge buckets in crunch time (both of them in the shot clock's dying seconds) and feather a gorgeous interior pass to Pat Ewing Jr. for the and-1 that put away Boston College.
5. The mid-majors are doing just fine. With so few upsets this year you'd get the sense that last year's mid-major block party isn't repeating itself. But look again. More mid-majors grabbed higher seeds this year (see No. 5 seed Butler and No. 4 seed Southern Illinois), and it's still entirely possible that we could have as many true mid-majors in the Sweet 16 this year (four) as we did in last year's Mid-Major Tourney of All-Time: Butler, which is already in after a stellar takedown of Maryland; SIU, which is a heck of a lot more consistent than upcoming foe Virginia Tech; Winthrop, which has a solid chance to sink Oregon; and Nevada, which the 'Bag has a hunch will beat Memphis. As Wichita State alum (and Singles cameo stud) Xavier McDaniel pointed out last year, folks: The mid-majors are still coming.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl covers college basketball for the magazine and SI.com.