Thursday, March 20, 2014

Opening Rounds

As predictions go, you can't do much worse than TigerBlog did with the NCAA men's basketball tournament last year.

The NCAA tournament is a strange animal in many ways. More than any other event that TB can think of, the tournament's excitement wanes as it moves on.

It starts with the massive buildup to the selection show, which now basically goes all season. Then, once the pairings are announced, the excitement peaks for the games today and tomorrow. After that, the thrill slowly fades, as the later rounds go along.

Even the Final Four doesn't have the level of interest of the first round.

If you're even a casual fan of college basketball, then you have to love today and tomorrow. Wall to wall games, from midday until late into the night, all of them on TV.

One game doesn't grab you? There's another one on. And all in search for that one game that is going to be the one that makes the tournament, like last year, when at this exact moment, nobody had ever seen Floria-Gulf Coast play.

Princeton, by the way, did as much as anyone to make today what it has become, with the near-miss against Georgetown 25 years ago this week and then the win over UCLA in 1996.

One of the draws of the opening round is, well, the draw, or more specifically the bracket.

The second the pairings are announced, anyone with a forum - TV, radio, Twitter - immediately starts making predictions, of all kinds. This one in the Final Four. This 12 over that 5. The other one wins its all.

And then everyone else fills out a bracket. Hey, getting it 100% right can win you $1 billion this year.

Every office has a pool. Everybody takes a shot at it, going through line-by-line, making snap decisions about teams they've never seen play.

The OAC has its own office pool each year. Someone wins, everybody else loses. Typical.

In this pool, no money or prize is at stake. It can't be. If you work anywhere near college athletics, you know the rules. DO NOT BET ON SPORTS. Even something as simple as a $5 NCAA tournament pool.

The message is crystal clear and communicated to everyone every year, multiple times. There's no way to miss it.

And so the OAC pool is just for fun.

TigerBlog didn't win it last year. He did the two years before it, but that's mostly luck.

Last year? TB had a prediction over Georgetown over Gonzaga in the championship game. It didn't quite work out.

Not after Florida-Gulf Coast took out the Hoyas in the first round and Gonzaga went out in the second round. Had TB's prediction come true, Georgetown and Gonzaga would have been a combined 11-1 in the tournament. Instead, they were 1-2.

This year? TB has Kansas over Creighton in the final, which means he's hoping Joel Embiid will be back in time for the key games later on. TB also has Kentucky over Wichita State in the second round. He'll be rooting hard for the Shockers, but he thinks Kentucky may be able to put something together here.

Wichita State is 34-0, and to get to 40-0, or even 38-0, it's going to have be earned. The committee did no favors for the No. 1 seed, with a region that includes Kentucky, probably Louisville and then probably Michigan or Duke. That is not going to be easy.

Princeton is not in the NCAA tournament this year, but the Tigers are still playing in the postseason. After holding off Tulane 56-55 in the first round of the CBI last night in New Orleans, Princeton will now play at Fresno State Monday in the second round.

The biggest winner in Round 1 was T.J. Bray, who finished the regular season with 995 points. Given a new opportunity, Bray scored 12 points last night in New Orleans, putting him over the 1,000-point mark for his career.

The other big winner for Princeton was Clay Wilson, who continued his late-season surge with 11 points, including three big second-half three-pointers.

And so now it's on to Fresno. TigerBlog was there with the Tigers in 1995, when current head coach Mitch Henderson had a big night shooting three-pointers as Princeton won the Coors Light Classic.

This time, it's in the postseason.

As TB said Monday, it's not the tournament everyone shoots for when the season begins. That tournament has its best days today and tomorrow.

But come Monday, all but 16 of those teams will be gone, and Princeton will still be playing.

There's certainly something to be said forthat.

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