First of all, I’d like to apologize for the month-long hiatus between my last blog entry and this one. I’ve pretty much been too busy celebrating my amazing Norfolk State pick and Kentucky’s eighth national championship to sit down and write my annual recap of the most recent college basketball season. The past few tournaments have produced great upsets, fantastic finishes, and heart-warming Cinderella stories, but have all ended sadly with a team I disliked winning the ultimate championship. In fact, there hasn’t been a national champion who I didn’t despise since Kansas in 2008. Well, 2012 was the year of redemption for me as not only did several special upsets happen, but the tournament ended with the University of Kentucky (my favorite team growing up) being crowned NCAA champion. Sure, this year’s tourney wasn’t perfect. My alma mater didn’t make the field (Wake Forest), there wasn’t a single buzzer beater (or anything close to one really), and not a single late round Cinderella story emerged to captivate us all. Nevertheless, 2012 might go down as my all-time favorite NCAA tournament for several reasons which I will highlight below.
As I have done in year’s past, I will provide both a subjective and objective explanation for each category below. Hope you enjoy and feel free to comment.
- Subjective: Norfolk State beating Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament- First of all, you probably already know that I am obsessed with upsets, especially those that come in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Therefore, a 15 seed’s first victory over a 2 in 11 seasons and their 5th victory all-time would be a momentous occasion for me regardless of the circumstances. This game was something else though; something that bordered on divine intervention. The story begins 5 days before selection Sunday when for whatever reason, I felt compelled to attend the MEAC Quarterfinals in Winston-Salem on the Wednesday of conference championship week. I love watching small conference tournament games, and because the ACC tournament was being played in Atlanta, this was the only conference tourney in the area. I tried to find someone to go with, but none of my friends were interested and most laughed at me for attending such a random event. I just had to go though, so I made the 45 minute drive from my home in Greensboro to the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch Savannah State play Hampton and Norfolk State play Howard. It was there and then that I discovered the massive Kyle O’Quinn. After watching him dominate Howard both offensively and defensively, I said at that very moment that if this team gets matched up again an undersized # 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament then Norfolk will win a game. Sure enough my Spartans got matched up with Missouri, I picked Norfolk to win in all my brackets, and the rest is history. The moral of the story is follow your dreams, believe in the impossible, and go scout out to the MEAC Quarterfinals!
- Objective # 1: Lehigh beating Duke- Friday March 16th will end up being one of the greatest days of my life thanks to the combination of both the Norfolk and Lehigh upsets. The first 15 over 2 had more personal meaning to me, but Lehigh’s win over Duke meant more to the national at-large. Duke is a team that everybody loves to root again, and C.J. McCollum was the breakout player of the tourney. This win also allowed me the opportunity to go see Lehigh in person when I attended the Greensboro second round games on Sunday of the first weekend of tourney play. And even though the Mountain Hawks came up just short against Xavier, it’s nice to say that I am probably the only person in the country who saw both of the 15 seed giant killers (Lehigh and Norfolk State) play in person this March.
- Objective # 2: Kentucky winning the national championship- Ok, I’ll admit that not everybody was as happy about this as I was, but most analysts seem to agree that the most surprising aspect of this John Calipari led Kentucky team was that they were easy to root for. They played unselfishly hard every night and showed remarkable poise and class throughout the season.
- Subjective: South Dakota State loses to Baylor- I absolutely adored this year’s South Dakota State team. It was truly inspiring to see a team of under-sized , slow white shooters not only make the NCAA tournament but then go toe-to-toe with a 3 seed in the first round. Unfortunately, the Jackrabbits upset bid fell just short in their close loss to Baylor.
- Objective: Ohio loses to North Carolina- For a few minutes on the evening of March 23rd , myself and the entire nation thought that the stars might have aligned just enough for Ohio to spring the upset of all upsets and knock off # 1 seeded and preseason national title favorite North Carolina in the Sweet 16. The only thing that made this upset possible in the first place was the injury to UNC’s starting point guard Kendall Marshall. That blow clearly affected UNC both physically and mentally and allowed Ohio to give the Heels everything they could handle for 40 minutes. In fact, a half court rim out was the only thing that kept the Bobcats from winning the game in regulation. North Carolina proved too tough for the Bobcats in overtime, and Clark Kellogg’s tearful reaction to his son’s loss was one of the most memorable and heart-breaking moments of this year’s tournament.
- Subjective: Norfolk State over Missouri- See best moment explanation above.
- Objective: Fab Melo’s absence proves costly – Syracuse was going to be my national title pick if Fab Melo had not been suspended two days before the start of the tournament. I backed off of the Orange and correctly picked Kentucky to win it all instead, but I still believed the Orange would find a way to get to the Final Four and that people were overreacting to Melo’s suspension. Unfortunately, this is one situation where I should have listened to the experts, as the Orange struggled through each of their first three NCAA tourney games before eventually losing to Ohio State in the Elite 8. I’m not sure whether Melo’s absence had more of a psychological effect on this squad than anything, but Syracuse never looked like anything close to a 31-2 # 1 seed the entire NCAA tournament.
- Subjective: Kansas out in the second round of the NCAA tournament- It seems like the years I pick Kansas to make a deep tourney run they bow out early, and the seasons I pick them to lose early, they go deep. For example, in both 2010 and 2011, I picked the Jayhawks to get to the title game, and in both tournaments, they suffered shocking early round losses to mid-major squads. This season, I thought they overachieved all year and were destined to bow out in the second round. They responded by reaching the national title game and coming within a few plays of shocking Kentucky to win it all. I think I’ve figure these guys out now though. The Jayhawks appear to be one of those teams who only play well when the pressure is off and expectations are low.
- Objective: North Carolina as preseason # 1- Rarely, has such an overwhelming preseason favorite underachieved to the extent that UNC did this season. People just assumed that because Roy Williams had led his most experienced Tar Heels teams to championships in both 2005 and 2009 that history would certainly repeat itself in 2012. However, UNC failed to even win the ACC tournament or make the Final Four this season. I have been saying since February of 2011 that there was just something wrong with this UNC squad. They had too many games where they didn’t play good defense and too many nights where guys failed to make clutch plays down the stretch.