Kansas State rises, mid-majors stumble on Day One
Posted: Thursday March 20, 2008 5:28PM; Updated: Friday March 21, 2008 6:49AM
Five things we learned while wondering if Kansas State is really the best upstart this NCAA tournament can come up with:
Accept it: this may just not be the year for upsets. Everything in the final minutes of Belmont-Duke was pointing toward a March upset for the ages. But this isn't last year's Duke team, and Gerald Henderson had tremendous poise on his game-deciding coast-to-coast run that gave the Devils a one-point win. Make no mistake: Belmont coach Rick Byrd had a winning game plan and his players executed it almost perfectly. Back-to-back first-round losses would have sent the proud Duke program into deep soul-searching mode. But now that this game is out of the way, I'm expecting the Blue Devils to get in gear in Round Two against West Virginia. Thursday's win took some serious stones. (For what it's worth, I'm convinced a Duke player would have stepped in to take the charge that Belmont's Matthew Dotson didn't take against Henderson on the winning play.)
K-State's "other guys" were better than USC's "other guys." Michael Beasley got his 23 and 11, but 11th-seeded Kansas State became the first underdog to win a game because Bill Walker (22 points) and Jacob Pullen (11) were far better than O.J. Mayo's supporting cast, the foul-plagued Taj Gibson and Davon Jefferson. (Given how both teams played over the past few weeks, I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.) It was a big moment for Walker, who saved the Wildcats with 17 first-half points after Beasley got two early fouls. Think about it: Walker has been in the shadow of teammates Mayo (in high school) and Beasley (in college), but on the biggest stage of their careers (so far) it was Walker who stood out the most. Bonus points, too, for KSU coach Frank Martin, who has learned how to get something out of Beasley despite early foul trouble with smart substitutions in the first halves of games. This is the kind of win K-State really needs to build its program in the long term.
More evidence that this is the worst crop of mid-majors in years: Only hours after Kent State tied a tournament record for futility by only scoring 10 points in a half, Winthrop needed a late three-pointer just to get 11 points in the second half of its 71-40 meltdown against Washington State. (Keep in mind, the game was actually tied 29-29 at halftime.) Then George Mason took the same court in Denver, only to lay a complete egg in a 68-50 loss to Notre Dame. And so we're left after Day One with only one double-digit-seeded victor, and it's not a mid-major at all but rather Kansas State of the Big 12. So much for Cinderella.
More evidence that what passes through my mind during games isn't entirely normal. Do you think Bob Huggins' tailor in Morgantown is getting any extra business from Huggy's attire choices these days? ... Has anyone noticed how many times the ball has gotten stuck in the area between the rim and the backboard? I counted at least three occasions on Thursday ... Could Wazzu get any bigger numbers for the back of its jerseys? ... Is it just me, or was the general level of play on Thursday pretty bad? Parts of the Arizona-West Virginia game were just plain ugly ... Hearing Kevin Harlan say Josh Akognon's name reminded me of Harlan calling the name of Christian (The Nigerian Nightmare) Okoye when Harlan was the Kansas City Chiefs radio guy during my childhood in K.C. ... Did Arizona's heartbreaking overtime loss to Illinois in the 2005 Chicago Regional Final exert some sort of long-term damage on the Wildcats program? These first-round losses are getting awfully common for the boys from Tucson ... Did I really hear announcers calling Xavier Egg-zavier today? ... Is it a good or a bad thing if one of my editors has decided to start calling me Psycho G?