After a frenetic ninety-six hours featuring forty-eight games of basketball, basketball fans can collectively take a breath. The Sweet Sixteen is right around the corner. The first two rounds produced some interesting sub-plots: the first loss by a 1 seed in a game I wouldn’t quite categorize as an upset, the reminder that a team’s momentum heading into March makes them extremely dangerous; and baffling end of game situations that I dare say epitomize the “Steph Curry” effect. Let’s break the huddle and do this shit.
Nova’ Lost, but Was It Really An Upset?
Look, I’m not trying to say I predicted the Badgers to upend the overall number one seed on the third day of the tournament because I didn’t. But for anyone to say Wisconsin’s win was that big of a shocker, I’m here to tell you that’s just not the case. For one thing, Wisconsin seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig haven’t just played in their fair share of big games — they’ve now felled top seeded giants in three of the last four years. The Badgers toppled Number 1 seed Arizona in 2014, avenged their season-ending loss from 14′ by upending undefeated and overall Number 1 seed Kentucky in a 2015 instant classic, and delivered the knockout blow to the defending champion Wildcats in Saturday’s thriller.
There’s a lot to be said for how valuable experience becomes in a win-or-go-home tournament. With the game on the line and sphincters fully tight, two Badger seniors refused to blink. After Koenig nailed a ridiculous three while drifting to his left to put Wisconsin up 62-59, Wisconsin Hayes shut the door on Nova’s hopes of a 2Peat with a nifty stutter and go move along the baseline. The bucket gave the Badgers a 64-62 lead they never relinquished.
Controversy aside of whether Nova got a bad shake facing what many thought was an under-seeded Badgers team, the Wildcats couldn’t shake off what was an overall sluggish start to the tournament. In their first round game against 16 seed Mount Saint Mary, Villanova only led by one at the half and shot 6-17 from deep for the game. Though they took control in the second half and pulled away for a twenty point win, the discombobulated start to the tourney carried over to their eventual season-ending second round loss. This game epitomized what makes the tournament so great: play one bad game and your ass gets sent packing.
mōˈmen(t)əm: It’s a powerful thing
(If you are a Michigan fan, you will enjoy this section. If you are a Duke or Iowa State fan, spare yourself and skip the next three paragraphs. I refuse to be responsible for your excessive profanities).
Because I consider myself a serious writer and serious writers do sophomoric and stylistic things, like provide readers the full definition of an important word, here goes nothing.
Momentum: strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.
What’s that? You want me to use it in a sentence? Michigan’s four wins in four days to capture the Big Ten Conference Championship gave them hella MOMENTUM heading into the NCAA tournament.
It’s too early to say whether this momentum will produce a national championship run, but damn are there a lot of similarities to this Michigan team and the 2011 Connecticut Huskies. Pint-sized point guard who makes big shot after big shot, CHECK. A magical run through a conference tournament, CHECK. A white, old coach who looks like one of my friend’s Grampas and consistently stands with the arms crossed posture all while wearing a tie, DOUBLE CHECK!?!?!
Holy shit, is Michigan going to win the National Championship? MICHIGAN IS GOING TO WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! If they do, you heard it here first. If they don’t, well forget I ever made this prediction and chalk it up to “alternative facts.”
Late Game “Steph” Snafus
I have a theory called the “Steph Curry” effect, and it was on full display the last four days. The fun-loving gunner from Davidson’s meteoric rise to NBA superstar came on the heels of thirty-foot rainbow jumpers and three-on-one fast break heat checks. In a late game situation, Curry’s decision to let it fly is understandable. For a man who has five seasons of 200 made three pointers or more, Curry has the green light no matter how much time is left in the game. College players have taken notice. In late game situations, it’s “Steph Curry” time — meaning time to jack contested 3’s that rarely go in. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Exhibit A and B:
A. After Notre Dame point guard Matt Farrell missed the front end of a one-and-one, Princeton had the ball down one with less than fifteen seconds to play. Racing the ball up the court, Princeton’s Amir Bell looked as if he would drive baseline. Instead, he chose to pass the ball to guard Devin Cannady. Cannady promptly shot a twenty-four footer that hit back iron. Missed shot, missed upset. Ballgame.
B. After a bone-headed foul by Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis gave Northwestern two free throws and a one point lead, the Commodores still had an opportunity to win the game. Having just made a nifty layup the previous possession to put Vandy in the lead, surely Commodore point guard Riley LaChance would once again drive to the bucket again, right? WRONG! He’d instead dribble around the top of the key and launch a long 3 that barely nicked iron. Game over.
Rather than drive to the bucket and force the referee to decide to blow/swallow (whoa, are we still talking about basketball? Why yes, yes we are you pervert) his whistle, two players who excel at driving the ball to the basket settled for a long and contested threes. Newsflash, guys — down 1, a 2 is as good as a 3. In both situations, the “Steph Curry” effect was on full display.
If you’re like me, the end of Rounds 1/2 produce violent withdrawals. Fear not, friends. Basketball returns Thursday and Friday with the promise of some scintillating match-ups. Until then, use this Semi Ojeleye dunk to whet your appetite. Stay thirsty, my friends.