The other day I talked about the fact that nine of the ten local teams (between men's and women's basketball) were playing in some sort of postseason tournament.
Well, the first weekend isn't even over and we've already watched six of those nine go down while the other three will play tomorrow. So let's review....
Gone, but not forgotten:
Duquesne women - The Dukes were put in a tough spot as they had to play at Northwestern in an NIT game but they played the Wildcats extremely tough and really took the game down to the wire. It is only a matter of time for Suzie McConnell Serio to have this program in the top 25. This season was another step forward in her quest to build this program into an annual contender for the Atlantic 10 title.
Robert Morris men - The Colonials were the talk of the first round of the tournament even though they lost because, as a 15-seed they almost knocked off Villanova. The Wildcats were a bit of a fraud but still, there is no reason in the world they should have struggled so much with a team from the Northeast Conference. Robert Morris has now been to back-to-back NCAA Tourneys which means this could be the end of the Mike Rice era as he will no doubt have plenty of suitors for his services.
Gone and Forgotten:
Pitt women - The Panthers were an example of a team whose season couldn't end fast enough and thankfully for the sanity of all involved over there, it came to a crashing halt Friday in the WNIT at Toledo. Pitt fell behind a bunch early and by all accounts played the kind of uninspired game that became all too common for this team. Certainly if ever a team could use some time off it was this one -- there is certainly talent here but it is time for this bunch, which never developed chemsitry, mental toughness or leadership, to regroup and start over next year. The good news is the program is strong enough to withstand a tough season like this and return to the NCAA Tournament next year.
Duquesne men - Like the Pitt women, things went haywire early and often for the Dukes, who limped to the finish line then (for whatever reason) accepted a bid to play in that CSI Tournament (I know, it is CBI but I call it CSI because it is a crime that tournament exists). And as if things weren't bad enough, Ron Everhart had to suspend one of the top players, Bill Clark, before the CSI game (against Princeton) and that pretty much sealed their fate. Not surprisingly they were beaten rather easily by Princeton and their season mercifully came to an end. Like the Pitt women, there needs to be a little soul searching done with this team but like the Pitt women, they are well coached and there is enough returning talent in place that this could just be a little bump in the road.
Penn State women - The Lady Lions looked like a team ready to turn the corner and they did - they went from a team that was 15-4 and cruising towards an NCAA Tournament bid to a team that lost ten of its last 12 - the final insult coming courtesy of a 76-68 loss on its home court to Hofstra. The Lady Lions have a lot of work to do and while there is a lot of young talent on that team, they need to learn how to close out games late in the season. It is pretty telling about what is wrong with a team when the head coach apologizes to the fans for the lack of effort a team puts into a game, which is what happened after this one.
Robert Morris women - The Colonials lost in the first round of the WNIT on the road to St. Bonaventure, which, there is no shame in that as they were probably supposed to lose that game. There is a little bit of a "could have been more" feeling with this team as they ran through the NEC only to be upset by St. Francis in the NEC Tournament. I'm sure it can't sit well, either, that that same Red Flash team is playing in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday -- in Pittsburgh.
Pitt men - We've seen this before, Pitt-Xavier I mean, and while the two teams are fairly evenly matched and play a similar style, this (a game who plays the same way Pitt does) seems to be a game that Pitt has traditionally found a way to win. The Panthers have gotten a great draw to the Sweet 16 and while Kansas State (who Pitt will play if it beats Xavier) looked very impressive against BYU, I don't know, the Big 12 teams haven't impressed me all that much (though, neither have the Big East teams) so it won't shock me if we are talking about a second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight.
West Virginia men -- If the Mountaineers survive the Missouri version of 40 minutes of hell defense Sunday I think they'll get a date with Kentucky with a trip to the Final Four on the line. I think it could be a tough matchup for the Mountaineers, Missouri, because they don't have great guards but they will pose a lot of problems on the other end for Missouri as well. The Mountaineers play it close to the vest but I think this is a game, if they handle the press, they could actually run away and hide in this one because I think they could score at will down in the paint.
West Virginia women - Here is the beauty of the women's tournament - West Virginia worked hard to finish second in the Big East then got to the Big East championship game -- and was rewarded with a trip to Austin and a likely second-round matchup with Texas on its home floor. Before they get that far, however, they have to beat Lamar tomorrow, which, they will, but of the three remaining teams - given the venue -- they have the toughest road to survive this first weekend.
Other quick notes:
* A lot of people believed the Big East was a bit down from what it had been and they were right. But far too often the generalizations about conferences that come with what happens in the NCAA tournament - which is a one-and-done format with plenty of different matchups and variables - get a little ridiculous. The Big East lost five teams out of eight, yes, but the circumstances were not all similar. Villanova and Notre Dame were seeded too high and lost to teams who were probably seeded too low. In other words, while they were both "upset" I'm not sure how big of an upset those two games really were. Louisville and Georgetown, to me, were the choking dogs of the bunch -- neither showed up ready to play and both were embarrassed as a result. Again, that has nothing to do with how good the conference is and everything to do with two teams who have a lot of, yes, soul-searching to do. Marquette was what it was - a middle-of-the-pack kind of NCAA Tournament team and it lost to another middle-of-the-pack kind of NCAA Tournament team and one that got extremely hot at the right time (remember, Washington is in the NIT if it didn't win the Pac 10 Tournament). So again, yes, we know the Big East was down this year (as is the case with most every other conference) but the idea that it somehow wasn't still, at the very worst, the second best conference in terms of power at the top, depth and strength at the bottom, is laughable.
* With Kansas going down -- and while the Jayhawks didn't play as well as they can and frankly didn't have much of a sense of urgeny until it was too late, let's be honest, Northern Iowa just flat-out beat them -- the best team left is obviously Kentucky. And I'll say this - if they Wildcats shoot and defend as well as they did last night against Wake Forest, they aren't going to lose. That was quite impressive, perhaps the most impressive performance of any team thus far in the tournament. Yes, the Demon Deacons are ordinary but my goodness, what we saw from Kentucky was unreal as well. Now, that being said, Kentucky is still an extremely young basketball team and I'm still not convinced it can play four games in a row at that high of a level.
* The tournament so far has confirmed about what most people thought about the field - there hasn't been a field where the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds aren't that much different than the No. 11 and No. 12 seeds. That tells me this could be a season which the Final Four includes a few teams who are exceptions to the general rules of March Madness -- the rule of course being you need NBA-level talent to get to the Final Four. That bodes well for Pitt.