Every year around the middle of March when a blank NCAA tournament bracket gets dropped on my desk to be filled out and turned in “for entertainment purposes only” the first thing I do is ask myself how quickly this sheet of paper will actually be worth less than it is right now? (If you’re keeping score at home it was about 6:47 pm Eastern on day one yesterday as Arizona got bounced by that perennial power from Princeton, New Jersey).
The next thing I do is look for teams who are heating up heading into the tournament.
Hint: its usually the ones who have stud guards. Why? Because March Madness is all about good guard play.
Not only do guards run the show in March, they are the show in March. Next if I can find teams that have a starting five littered with upper classmen then viola I’ve got myself a bangin’ bracket.
Oh I’ll still get smoked by Maggie in accounting because she had the wherewithal to take a hobbled Pennco Tech squad in the South Region, to get to the Final Four, obviously, because she had a major crush on actor Sean Penn when she was in junior high (I can’t believe I couldn’t see that).
But, at least for those six hours and forty seven minutes I was feeling pretty good about my chances.
Billy Packer said it best during the1985 NCAA Championship game between Villanova and Georgetown while the Cats’ Eddie Pinckney was calmly and cooly dropping in four free throws
down the stretch in Nova’s monumental upset win over the Hoyas that night. – “Ya love to have seniors on the foul line late in the game Brent (Musberger). I can remember back when three
seniors with a lot of experience led that North Carolina State Wolfpack team to that big upset win over Houston a couple years ago.”
Packer was onto something.
He was talking about NC State’s Sydney Lowe and Derrick Whittenburg, both senior guards and forward Thurl Bailey.
They had slayed the Phi Slamma Jamma just two years prior. Conversely former Marquette Basketball Coach Al McGwire was also onto something when he used to say repetitively as a color analyst for NBC and CBS, “No that’s a bad shot son. Back in my days at Mah-quette, I’d have sat him down next to me. He’s only a freshman.”
That’s why anyone who tells you that this Penn State Basketball run we’re seeing right now is a fluke is just having trouble getting past the logo.
Led by senior guard Andrew Funk, a fifth year senior from
Archbishop Wood, and a slew of others seniors, Penn State throttled seventh seeded Texas A&M en route to a 76-59 victory in round one of this year’s tourney.
Funk had an off-the-hook night, as he brought the heat from distance, splashing 8-of-10 three-pointers as the Nittany Lions finished the first half on a 28-10 run to create some serious separation and never relented in ending the season for Texas A&M. Funk continued the hot streak the Nittany Lions used to thunder in the Big Ten Tournament scoring a game-high and career high 27 points.
Meanwhile, Texas Longhorns’ acting head coach Rodney Terry, looked on from the stands, at times seeming unnerved by the three-point shooting display by Penn State Basketball as he appeared to be assembling copious mental notes to prepare to face the string music that the Nits are capable of Saturday evening.
The performance by Funk allowed Penn State’s leading man, guard Jalen Pickett to facilitate without forcing anything on offense, scoring 19 points while dishing out eight assists and adding six rebounds.
Pickett has put his signature on what has become known as “Bully Ball” and has been Penn State’s secret weapon this year. The unfortunate teams struggled this past season with Pickett’s ability to back down defenders into the ball before moving it at will after taking down the shot clock 12-13 seconds most every possession.
The All-American guard who averaged 17.5 points and just under six assists this year has led PSU to five straight gut-wrenching wins down the stretch by a grand total of 13 points.
There was really nothing the Aggies could do to stop the rain from falling last night as they got their doors blown off by 17.
If the number two seeded Longhorns are to put an end to Happy Valley’s version of Cinderella they’re going to have to figure out a way to attack Pickett at half court and stop the rainy season
in Des Moines tomorrow at 7:45 Eastern on CBS.
For the Nits to survive and advance it’s real simple. They need to say hot.
When Penn State Basketball shoots at least 40 % from behind the arc they’ve won14 of 15 this year.
“Shoot ‘em up or sleep in the streets,” Villanova coach Jay Wright used to say. A line that became the team mantra throughout his tenure as the Wildcats Head Coach, a career that boasted two National Titles.
We will see Saturday whether Penn State will enjoy the spoils of indoor living or be relegated to the great outdoors like Baby Puss Flintstone on a clear and balmy night in Bed Rock.