Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Day NCAA Tournament Reactions: San Francisco Giants Style!

I wish I could write something on Giants baseball today. I wish I could write about prospects, or how lousy the free agents (Huff, Derosa, etc.) will be next year, or some sabermetrics article that proves how good Fred Lewis is, but I just can't.

The NCAA Tournament is blowing me away. I have been glued to my television and computer all day. Even as we speak, I have the March Madness On Demand playing in the background (I'm watching Montana-New Mexico right am starting to think that picking Montana wouldn't have been totally crazy).

So, considering I want to have a post, but I don't want to sacrifice the nature of my Giants-themed blog, I decided to echo my thoughts about the NCAA Tournament through Giants players/management/moments in history, etc.

The Aaron Rowand "Boy they were a disappointment, but for some stupid reason, we still think they're something" team : Georgetown (who lost by 14 to 14th-seeded Ohio).

Runner-up: UTEP (Badly coached, no discipline, don't rise to the occasion, and crumble when things get tough. Seriously, they played this badly last week against Houston and nobody saw this crushing loss to Butler coming?)

I have a soft spot for Georgetown. I went to Jesuit schools for eight years of my life. I like their uniforms. I like how they've had such an impact on basketball culture, especially in college basketball and athletic gear (seriously, 50 years ago, would you ever have thought a kid from the projects in Chicago would ever wear any clothing from Georgetown, a private, Catholic, primarily white, middle to upper class student body university, at all? And yet what does Arthur Agee wear in "Hoop Dreams" when he is playing one-on-one with his friend? A Hoyas jersey!)

Yet today was ridiculous. I didn't have them going far (I only had them going to the Sweet 16, unlike our President, who had them going to the Elite Eight), but I expected better from them, especially in the first round. Everybody on the team was a no-show. Greg Monroe was a no-show. Austin Freeman was a no-show. Even John Thompson III was a no-show as a coach. It was funny because I actually listened this game onto the radio for a while as I made dinner, and John Thompson (the Senior and former Georgetown coach) was just struggling to commentate this game. You could tell he was close to saying "What the hell are you telling your players! They're losing by 16 and they don't give a crap!"
but he decided to stay professional, and opted to say (although not very clearly) things like "Well, it doesn't look like Georgetown is rotating really well on defense."

(In defense of the son, I'm sure John Thompson can't talk too badly of his son. After all, despite churning out all kinds of NBA draft picks over the course of his tenure as Hoyas coach, Thompson only has one national title.)

If Aaron Rowand is a disappointing, overpaid, but still likable (because he hustles and is above average every three years) player to the baseball world, than Monroe, Thompson III and Georgetown are the corresponding player, coach and team in the Rowand-mold in the world of college basketball.

(Except for the hustle part about Monroe, since he...well...doesn't. Basically, he's the second coming of DeAndre Jordan.)

The Eugenio Velez "Why you should never solely judge somebody on a small sample" team: Notre Dame (who lost to 11th-seeded Old Dominion).

Runner-up: Vanderbilt (SEC is overrated sans Kentucky, no big wins, losses to Western Kentucky, Cincinnati, Illinois and South Carolina...and four-seed?)

Why Notre Dame got a sixth seed in the tournament baffles me. Gonzaga goes 26-6, wins the WCC regular season tournament, and they only get an eight seed (playing across the country in Buffalo no less). Notre Dame has 11 losses (including a 14-point loss to Northwestern, a loss at HOME to Loyola Marymount, and eight conference losses) and finished tied for seventh in their league, and they get a sixth seed. A month ago they weren't even in the tournament discussion, and last Sunday they were awarded a six seed?

Why? Because Notre Dame went on a crazy hot run from Feb. 24 to March 11, much like Eugenio Velez went on a crazy hot run at the plate from mid-July to early August. Was Velez worth starting the rest of the year in left field for the Giants? No, he was mediocre sans that run.

The same goes for the Irish. They weren't a tournament team a month ago. However, they got hot in some games, and because they played in a "big-name" conference, they not only were invited, but they were given a six seed!

And to be honest, the NCAA committee matched Notre Dame with the best possible scenario matchup-wise in the first round (Old Dominion played a style that would work to Notre Dame's strengths: slow down, defensive-oriented). Nonetheless, Notre Dame couldn't win in the first round, much like they couldn't beat Northwestern in the beginning of the year.

Let's hope Bruce Bochy doesn't make a "Notre Dame-esque" mistake with Velez on Opening Day.

The Jonathan Sanchez "I'm glad I watched that even though nine out of ten times I probably would have skipped it" game: Villanova's 73-70 overtime victory over 15th-seeded Robert Morris.

Runner-up: BYU's 99-92 victory over Florida in double overtime (simply because I can't stand University of Florida and BYU athletics...incredibly obnoxious fans in incredibly different ways. Florida fans hype their teams too much; BYU fans are so nice that it makes you sick.)

Back in July, I sat down and decided to watch a Giants game against the San Diego Padres. Randy Johnson was supposed to start, but he was hurt, and Jonathan Sanchez, who had been demoted to the pen a couple of weeks before, was starting in place of the injured RJ. Also, Tim Lincecum had pitched the night before, and Matt Cain was pitching the following night.

Any other summer, I would have skipped that game. I would have said, "Sanchez? Padres? Lincecum last night? Cain tomorrow? I think I'll pass on this one."

But I didn't, and as Giants fans know, it turned out to be worth it.

The same thing rang true today. I sat down to watch Villanova-Robert Morris on MMOD from the beginning. It had all the makings of a "skip this one" game: 15th seed vs. 2nd seed, Big East vs. NEC, 2008 Final Four team vs. 2008 NCAA Tournament qualifier, etc. Most times, I would have said, "Screw it, I'll just watch whatever CBS is playing."

However, I kept watching, partially out of allegiance to my sister, who is currently going to school at Villanova.

And you know what? It turned out to be one of the most entertaining games I watched today. Sure, it was nice to see Villanova win, but I loved Robert Morris. I loved how they countered Villanova's pressing style of play with an aggressive style as well. I loved how they seemed to punch Villanova back with every punch Villanova threw. I loved how Mike Rice, the coach of Robert Morris, out-coached and out-crazied (I thought he was going to murder a referee on three or four occasions during the game) Villanova's Jay Wright, one of the most respected coaches in the NCAA today.

Would I have watched this game had my sister not gone to Villanova? Maybe, maybe not. I will say this though: like the Sanchez no-hitter on July 10, I'm glad as hell I took the risk on a No.2 vs. No.15 game on MMOD.

The Pablo Sandoval "He may look fat and out of shape, but you know what, he's actually a pretty good athlete" player: Derrick Caracter, UTEP.

Runner-up: Omar Samhan, St. Mary's. (Okay, I know he's not fat anymore, but he will always be fat to me after watching him pound his chest and taunt Gonzaga's crowd for three years.)

As I expected, UTEP laid an egg this NCAA Tournament. A popular pick to be one of the biggest upsets on the first day, Butler outplayed, out coached and outclassed the Miners. To be honest, this came as no surprise to me. I picked Butler because a.) Butler is a good team that consistently plays well in the NCAA Tournament and against good teams, and b.) I wasn't going to pick an upset with a team coached by a John Calipari protege.

That being said, I really like Derrick Caracter. And for some strange reason, I kept thinking "He reminds me of Pablo Sandoval" the whole game.

Much like Sandoval, you don't think much of Caracter at first sight. He looks huge (and that is underscoring it), he looks slow, he doesn't really have any muscle mass and you're just thinking "how's this guy the star on this NCAA Tournament team?"

And then, you watch the game and Caracter slowly impresses. Much like Sandoval surprises his pundits with great diving or jumping catches, Caracter impresses with his surprisingly strong and athletic ability. He owns the paint, and he plays hard, tough and for the most part, efficiently.

Sure, he has attitude problems (which led to his transfer from Louisville to UTEP). Sure, he looks like Jeremy Pargo but half-a-foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. Yet, the guy has some skills. While everyone on UTEP's roster (head coach included) basically went into a shell once Butler started making threes, Caracter still managed to play well. He scored 20 points on 10 of 13 shooting, and nabbed nine rebounds. UTEP had a lot of problems against the Bulldogs, but Caracter wasn't one of them in my opinion.

The Brad Penny "I hate to admit it because I hated them so much in the past, but I have to give them props because of recent events" team: Omar Samhan and the St. Mary's Gaels.

Runner-Up: The Washington Huskies. (I knew Marquette wasn't that great of a team, but I said this to myself as I created my bracket, "They're playing UW, UW never seems to win on the road or on neutral courts, Isaiah Thomas is playing hurt, they have Lorenzo Romar as a coach...yeah, I'll take Marquette.")

I don't like St. Mary's. I am a Gonzaga grad and I covered Zags basketball for three seasons for my school newspaper, so I feel I am justified in these hostile feelings for the Gaels.

Like them or not though, the Gaels proved to me they were a decent team today. They simply outplayed the Richmond Spiders in every way. They out hustled them, they had a better gameplan, and they seemed hungrier. Richmond (coach included) seemed happy just to be there. The Gaels had blood in their eyes and they took no prisoners. Mickey McConnell? On fire. Omar Samhan? Incredible.

As much as I hate Samhan, the guy dominated today and deserves some credit. I guess I'm so used to cheering against him and St. Mary's, so I never really have appreciated him all that much in the past. Yet, as I watched the Gaels beat down the Spiders, with no cheering interest in either camp, I realized that "Hey, maybe this guy should have been WCC Player of the Year."

My reason? Samhan always comes to play in the big games. You never say, "Man what happened to Samhan?" the same way you say "Man what happened to Matt Bouldin?" Samhan is there every game. Bouldin has off-nights, nights where he left his game back at the dorm or hotel room (in fact, I'm almost expecting Bouldin's inevitable "no-show" tomorrow against Florida State). That is why Samhan should have been WCC Player of the Year over Bouldin. Plain and simple.

I never thought I would say that of Samhan (just like I never though I'd say "I think Brad Penny could be a good signing" last August).

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