If you didn't see Maryland's devastating 85-83 defeat against Michigan State on Sunday, then I know your pain. I was on a plane when the game ended, and having seen the halftime score, reading the final tally in a text message when we landed was like taking a big gulp of a drink too strongly mixed. Would I rather see us lose by 8 or 10? No. Hell no. The effort they made in that comeback was worthy of a win. I see where Mike Wise is coming from with the whole "fitting end to an up-and-down career" for the seniors, but poetic justice only goes so far, and I'm not satisfied with that loss. They deserved better. Vasquez worked especially hard to be the player and floor leader that he showed he was on Sunday (26 pts, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals against the Spartans), and for him to go out like that . . . nuh uh. Not a worthy send-off. I wouldn't care as much if they lost in the Sweet 16, but to not even make it to the second weekend is pretty weak. It's crummy for Hayes and Milbourne, too, one seriously under-appreciated and the other grossly overshadowed by his backcourt despite having been forced to play out of position for 3 years. Wise is right that an era of Maryland basketball is ending, just as it did with the graduations of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, but it sure isn't the ending we wanted.
So what do the Terps have to write home about for this season? They have an ACC championship shared with Duke that was made possible by a signature home win on national television against a team they hate. They are fortunate enough to have had the ACC Player and ACC Coach of the Year. They won seven in a row to end the season and rallied from halftime deficits for road wins at Florida State, NC State and Virginia Tech in February. Shoot, there was even a thrilling buzzer-beater finish at home to slay Georgia Tech. We saw the emergence of a Lonny Baxter-like low post figure in Jordan Williams, something Gary's been missing for years. None of this even mentions the solid class of recruits slated to arrive in '10. The future looks bright.
Most of all, these Terps didn't turtle. They didn't falter after a loss to William & Mary. They didn't succumb to pity after an embarrassing loss in Durham. They didn't bring the disappointment of their ACC tournament exit with them on the plane to Spokane. And staring at a 15-point deficit with less than nine minutes remaining in their tournament life, they clawed and scratched and fouled and swished and stole their way back into the lead after playing their hearts out for 99.75% of the game. The soul-crushing .25% of the game that remained drove a spike through my chest the size of Vasquez's hair gel bottle, but in no way could I have asked any more from those guys than what they had already given. Milbourne's pose in the post-buzzer photos speaks to that: hands on the sides of the head, completely (forgive the pun) shellshocked, having no idea what else could have been done to win that game.
Nothin' left to do, Landon. Y'all gave it your best shot. Sometimes you trick the bull, but sometimes the bull gores you.
Now, having given the Terps their due, I'll try to settle up my bracket. Red indicates airballs, yellow is bricks, and green means count it.
- Montana led at the half, but the No. 14 Grizzlies couldn't hold off No. 3 seed New Mexico (half credit for saying they would win 1 game). Anthony Johnson, hero of the comeback against Weber State, went 1-for-12 from the field and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, amassing a lowly six points. Here's a shocker - averaging 19 PPG in the Big Sky conference is not quite as applicable to the NCAA tournament as you might think! (Springs, you dummy, a kitten could have picked that right!) Yeah, well, no tears shed. Long shots are just that.
- Oklahoma State point man James Anderson shot 0-for-6 from deep and 3-for-12 inside the arc for a total of 11 points (hang on, there's not a patten here, is there?) in a pillow fight loss to Georgia Tech in which nobody scored more than 14 points. Disappointing, dude, especially when my buddy A-Dick claims you're a good guy. I guess it didn't help that the Pokes got outrebounded by 11. That Lawal-Favors combination can getcha, I know. But you forgot. Rule #72: No excuses, play like a champion.
- UTEP started strong but ultimately underwhelmed a Butler team (jury's still out) I thought to be very beatable. Derrick Caracter showed well (20 points, 9 boards, 10-13 shooting), but I think the Miners fell victim to their lack of depth in losing a six-point halftime lead. Memphis, where are you?! (Oh, you lost to Ole Miss in the NIT did you? Nice work guys. Yeesh.
- The fact that I upchucked violently on St. Patrick's Day after one drink (don't ask) was not a good sign for Notre Dame. When you play on the low block and average a double-double in the Big East for most of the regular season, it's not okay to lay an egg in the first round game of a tournament which you need to dominate in order to have a chance of being looked at by NBA scouts. Regardless of Tory Jackson's 2-for-11/1-for-7 performance while playing all 40 minutes, Luke Harangody's 2-of-9 shooting performance and 3 personal fouls doomed the Irish as sure as Mike Brey's blazer-and-turtleneck combination cost him 3.1 dates per year in college. See if I ever pick the Irish to the Elite 8 again (highly improbable unless my next bowl of Lucky Charms turns into a pot of gold).
- Cal beat Louisvile on the backs of their threesome (Randle, Christopher, Robinson), but the Golden Bears were overwhelmed by Duke's threesome (Smith, Singler, Scheyer). Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but that doesn't mean it will get you places.
- BYU continues to fall short for me. I said they had the best chance to win the MWC and get a No. 3 seed. They didn't. I said Jimmer would be the gas for their Sweet 16 go-cart, and they puttered out. Fredette scored 21 against Kansas State, one point below his season average, but his 38% shooting from the field was sub-par when the Cougars needed an all-star. He may have just secured a spot as one of the 15% of BYU students who aren't married by the time they graduate.
- Gonzaga didn't make the second weekend; still, Mark Few continues to receive (and decline) high-profile job offers. I admire his loyalty, but he better take his team places soon before people begin writing him off (shoot, I already started).
- Cornell knocked off Temple and Wisconsin, proving they are stil the upset-minded team that almost took down Kansas earlier in the year (foreshadowing a future Kansas loss to a mid-major). I'm excited to see the Big Red in the mix and I'll be pulling hard for them against Kentucky. Look for Louis Dale to make some noise - he's an Alabama native, and they don't take kindly to SEC foe.
- West Virginia and St. Mary's are both doing well, particularly the Gaels who stunned No. 2 seed Villanova in a Big East arena on the broad shoulders of Omar Samhan (32 points, 7 rebounds). West Virginia should make the Elite 8, and I wouldn't be surprised if Samhan and Co. does as well - Baylor and Washington are both beatable teams.
I'm still going off of my original bracket, and my Final Four remains intact as of right now (Ohio State, Syracuse, Duke and Kentucky, with 'Cuse beating Duke in the final).
- Pitt beats Kansas State and 'Cuse tops Butler to set up an all-Big East regional in the West, which the Orange win. Arinze Onuaku should try to play against Pitt, but I think Wesley Johnson can carry the load against the Bulldogs.
- Ohio State bests Tennessee and faces whoever dares step on the court (I picked Kansas - oops). UNI vs. Sparty will be fun to watch, but neither one will take down the Buckeyes on Sunday (although Michigan State would be the greater challenge).
- West Virginia beats an over-matched Washington team and Kentucky manages to barely stifle a tough Cornell team, and the 'Cats squeak by again in the regional. Realistically, I can see a UK-WVU matchup going either way.
- Duke ends Purdue's chip-on-the-shoulder power trip with a dominating performance from Kyle Singler which can't be matched due to the absence of Singler's foil, Robbie Hummel. I'll go out on a limb and say St. Mary's beats Baylor (I took 'Nova) - I really think they have it in them, and that would set up the ultimate mid-major-vs.-juggernaut rivalry, a fiesta for underdog sympathizers of all ages. Duke wins.
- I'd love to see Cornell beat Kentucky, even if they get no further (although a Final Four berth that goes went through John Calipari AND Bob Huggins would be insanely cool). It's a simple good-over-evil, straight-over-sleazy fantasy for fans dealing with the ethical dilemmas of modern recruiting, one-and-done prospects and special player privileges.
- It would be awesome to see UNI Farokhmanesh the daylights out of Michigan State (yeah, I said it), but secretly I'll be waiving a small Sparty flag for Tom Izzo. He does things by the book, and he doesn't take himself too seriously. Gotta love it.
- I hope Chris Kramer and Purdue stick it to the Devils, even if that busts my bracket. They have a much better shot than any other team Duke will face except maybe Syracuse. If Baylor wins the other game (which I wouldn't mind seeing) and Purdue somehow gets by, I would be glued to the TV just as much for Tweety Carter, LaceDarius Dunn and E'twuan Moore as I would be for a Duke-St. Mary's matchup. Those are the best two possibilities in that region.