Over the weekend, in the Western Conference both the No. 1 seed and the No. 2 seed lost their first games. There were indications that it would be this crazy when the boring game that everyone was talking smack about turned into an almost-instant classic.
On Tuesday night, Carmelo Anthony decided to take things to a whole new level by scoring 42 points in a noble effort to keep the New York Knicks afloat. It didn't work. But it made for one of the most entertaining games in a postseason that's been filled with them.
The time has come to declare that if you're not watching this season of basketball—and especially now, if you're not watching this postseason of NBA—you're clearly not a fan of basketball. There are always arguments made about whether the NCAA or the NBA is a better product, but putting that arguement aside one can not deny the quality of play thus far has been far beyond what fans even had a right to expect.
The righteous anger of Denver, with the drama surrounding Anthony all season, has been galvanized since the trade. They're playing out of their heads against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that some claim is ready to take that next step—all the way to the Finals.
On the other side of the bracket, no one expected the Chicago Bulls to be this good when the season started. But now that it's finished, and the Bulls had the best record in the league, the weight of expectations has been foisted upon them. The struggles that presumptive-MVP Derrick Rose and his team are having with the Indiana Pacers do not bode well for the other young gun team. (It'd be more than bizarre, but a little apropos, at least, if the Bulls were to meet the Thunder in the 2011 NBA Finals.)
Dirk Nowitzki was mentioned early in the season as a possible MVP candidate, but then his team merely did what it's done for the last 12 years straight: Win more than 50 games in pretty convincing fashion, despite a host of injuries. He's roared back to life (along with the old man swag of Jason Kidd) for the playoffs and the Dallas Mavericks look to be a tough out for anyone, much less the (seemingly, at this point) over-matched Portland Trailblazers.
This post-season is reaffirming the notion that this season was (and is) one for the ages. With the worry of a lockout looming over everyone's heads (the players, the owners, and, most of all, the fans), this feels a little bit like insurance. If the building burns down, at least we'll have memories of that one last rager of a party.
Unlike the men's tournament—where we have, perhaps, the most unlikely Final Four of all time—the women's tournament has all the regal airs of a coronation. Will the University of Connecticut continue their otherworldly dominance? Will they meet up with Stanford—a team that many have claimed is actually the best in the country even as UConn was winning a record amount of games? Or will the (semi-)underdogs have a chance? Notre Dame's Fighting Irish took out the Tennessee Volunteers on Monday night ending Pat Summitt's revenge-quest on Geno and his UConn Huskies. The Fighting Irish are ranked as a No. 2 seed so it's not like people were taking them for granted. But, usually, when the path goes through Tennessee, that's where the path ends. Finally, on Tuesday night the second-seeded Texas A&M Aggies dismantled the Baylor Bears. Brittney Griner is one of the most exciting players in women's basketball—if only for pure spectacle—but she and her team were completely destroyed by A&M.
With all the fuss on Stanford and UConn's potential rematch —you might recall that they've played once this season already—there's a lot missing from the conversation about the contenders that will vie to keep them from that game.
On the one hand, Notre Dame enters their matchup with UConn with some nice momentum. UConn cruised past Duke, where the Fighting Irish had to scrap to get past the specter of Tennessee. (Notre Dame entered the game against the Vols with a lifetime record of 0-20 against Tennessee.) Also, there's a pesky knee injury that might be troubling Maya Moore.
On the other hand, Texas A&M seems ready and willing to take the fight to anyone. As they demonstrated against 6' 8" Brittney Griner, they're not in the NCAA Tournament bowing to any team, and that includes Stanford. Stanford roughed up the highest-scoring team in the nation in their Elite Eight matchup with Gonzaga—holding them to only 60 points in a game where the Lady Zags scored 38 in the first half.
The Final Four games begin on Sunday. Texas A&M will try to play the spoiler for Stanford at 5 p.m. MST on ESPN and then Notre Dame will attempt to deny Geno Auriemma's ladies their chance at the title game. Two teams will be vanquished and it's likely the No. 1 seed titans will play each other on Tuesday night for all the marbles. That game promises to be one of the best seen in a long, long time—as long as neither of those pesky 2 seeds decide they have something to say about it.
The women's bracket doesn't get as much attention as the men's for several reasons. The debate over the lack of attention could span several day's worth of arguments so let's summarize it by saying it's unfair and it's unfortunate. It's also an inevitability in this day and age, and at this point in the sport. (Women's basketball, as a profession, has been around significantly less time than men's. This is a fact. Sports take time to catch on no matter how much the teams are pushed by marketers or feminists.) But if we move past the lack of attention and the criticism that some level at the game, we have the chance to see some exciting basketball.
The sport is picking up and the time seems right. For the casual fan, the UConn Huskies are perfect to root for: they are fun, they win all the time and you can talk to practically anyone about them. In these aspects, they're a bit like the Chicago Bulls of the '90s—super easy for the casual sports fan to get into but they'll probably be looked back at as a bit of a bully. Meanwhile, Gonzaga will continue playing the Cinderella role, albeit in the women's game. All of the women's tournament games are broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2. Tune in and give the game a chance as women's basketball reaches its highest peak. It's hard to be disappointed by athletes playing the game at this high a level.
The No.1 seeds, as previously discussed, are Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh. Ohio State was rewarded with the overall No. 1 seed and seems to have consensus among experts to make the Final Four.
Pat Forde does a good job of bringing up some of the more interesting stories that will make up this tournament (as well as some minutia), but one of the most fascinating stories he skips over is that of Steve Fisher. With San Diego State rolling the way it has through this season—and the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Fab Five debuting this week—plenty of people are going to have Michigan on the mind. Fisher was fired from the University of Michigan amidst plenty of controversy relating to the Fab Five and NCAA infractions. The selection committee chose to put Fisher's former school—Michigan—on the same side as his new school—San Diego State. The Aztecs only lost to one team all season long: both away and at home against BYU. Of course, in order to set up this theoretical revenge, Michigan will have to get past Duke. The Blue Devils may not have won the ACC, but they beat up on UNC in the ACC Tournament to grab some serious momentum running into the Big Dance.
The First Four—as the newly expanded NCAA Tournament is calling their new play-in games—started yesterday night and the for-real tournament gets raring mañana. Regardless of filling in your brackets amongst your work colleagues, it's really worth taking some time to watch the games as they're taking place, especially in these first few days. There's very little to match up with the magic of an unsuspected team catching fire and knocking off a perceived threat. There's a reason it's nicknamed March Madness and the madness is setting in.
By now, of course, most people are familiar with the concept of March Madness even if they're not hoops fans. March Madness has turned into its own mini-Super Bowl complete with insane advertising dollars being spent and massive coverage.
This year, every single NCAA Tournament game will be streamed online, a first for an event this big. As championship week continues its clip and more teams are admitted to the tournament, expect to see more and more news on the annual office pool staple. Selection Sunday is tomorrow and brackets will be out in Monday's paper and (for those too impatient for tradition) on Sunday's webpages for immediate printout.
The No.1 seeds are projected, at this time, as Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh. Where the final teams are seeded and who makes it in the bubble (still a possibility for UNM!) really affects things, but it seems as though the safe money's on Duke and Kansas, especially if they're on opposite sides of the bracket. Duke looked invincible earlier in the season and, despite some late-season missteps, should be able to pick up some momentum in the early rounds. Kansas, on the other hand, enters the tournament with plenty of momentum already. They rank first in the nation in field goal percentage and rattled off wins against Top 25 teams Texas A&M and Mizzou in the last week. It'll be no cake walk to get through the Big 12 Tournament, as Duke learned last weekend in the ACC Tourney, but they'll be favored.
The madness of March is nearly upon us. Grab a bracket, enjoy some of the upsets and follow along.
Watch ESPN’s better-quality version (but with an annoying ad) here.
The good news? Last night’s “SportsCenter” did a segment spotlighting UNM sports. The bad news? It was centered on the brutally unsportsmanlike conduct a Lobo dished out in a NCAA women's soccer game against Brigham Young University.
The offending player was Elizabeth Lambert, a UNM junior and backliner on the Lobo Women’s Soccer team. She may usually be on defense, but as you’ll see in the game footage, that night Lambert seemed to be playing an offensive position—in a hockey match. The ESPN commentators describe the game as having “MMA qualities.”
The Freshman Rookie of the Year, Who's Who Scholar Athlete and Principal's Honor Roll student can be seen grinding her elbows into BYU players, kicking her rivals in the head when they’re on the ground and, most shockingly, calmly yanking on a rival player’s long, Latter Day Saint-sanctioned braid with so much force that it slammed the player flat on to her face. UNM lost the game 1-0, even.
According Lambert’s official player bio on the Lobo Athletics site, the 21-year old is majoring in University Studies with a focus on Occupational Therapy. Which, you know, seems like a really good idea.
Read what jezebel.com has to say about the resulting coverage here.