The thing most shocking about the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament was not that so many highly seeded teams lost, but that the 45-second shot clock didn't seem to favor the more talented teams.
I had been fairly certain that the shot clock, which this season made its tournament debut, would swing the balance to the favored teams, who wouldn't have to worry about a less-talented opponent sitting on the ball.
Obviously, I was wrong. Instead, the underdog teams, such as Cleveland State and Arkansas Little Rock, just came out shooting and relied on their quickness and athletic ability. At the same time, the highly seeded teams tended to play tight, as if they were afraid of making a mistake.
Teams that got in by the skin of their teeth, like DePaul, were the loosest, as if they had nothing to lose, and consequently played the best ball.
The team I liked very much, Michigan, was so tight in its game against Iowa State, while the Cyclones appeared much more confident and relaxed. As the game went on, it became tougher and tougher for Michigan to operate.
Syracuse was the same way, because everybody figured the Orangemen already had their airline tickets to the Meadowlands with both sub-regional games on their home floor. What Syracuse got against Navy, a team it beat handily in the regular season, was an unmerciful beating.
The trend I noticed in the first two rounds was that quickness seemed to take precedence over size. An example was Little Rock's quickness winning out over Notre Dame's power. Cleveland State won two games using quickness and an up-tempo game.
Although Cleveland State has to be the biggest surprise of the tournament, I still don't have a real handle on the Vikings. I do know that they had an awful lot of success in the regular season and certainly expected to do well in the NCAA tournament.
The biggest surprise, I believe, is DePaul, a team that got into the tournament on the last day of the season, that had the most valleys and adversity. Before the season, I felt DePaul had Top 20 personnel, but the Blue Demons played such a demanding schedule that they couldn't get that nice run of victories to help build confidence. They are playing very confidently now, and I'm sure beating St. John's late in the regular season helped.
Since I picked Michigan to reach the Final Four, my big disappointment is that the Wolverines couldn't get over the hurdle against Iowa State. This is two years in a row now that their guards have let them down.
Another amazing thing was two No. 3 seeds from the same state, Indiana and Notre Dame, losing on the same day to two No. 14 seeds, Cleveland State and Arkansas Little Rock. I'm not so surprised that Notre Dame got knocked out, but I didn't think Little Rock would be the team to do it.
As far as talking up Michigan State guard Scott Skiles, which has gotten me more than a few jabs from my good friend, Al McGuire, let me just say that I'm pushing him in reaction to all those people pushing against him because of his off-court problems. If a kid is eligible in the eyes of his school and the NCAA--which he is--then he ought to be judged by what he does on the court. Scott Skiles, by his performance, is taking care of himself.
On to the four regionals:
WEST--I don't think the Tar Heels were ever as far down as people put them, and now they're coming back. What you have here is two teams, Louisville and North Carolina, capable of winning the national championship, the first game of that kind in the tournament.
Although North Carolina has something to prove, I'm sticking with Louisville because, as I said, quickness appears to be the prevailing factor in this tournament. The Cardinals are on a tremendous roll, and Billy Thompson and Milt Wagner are playing the best ball of their careers.
One word of caution: Louisville is much more effective against teams that don't have good big people, and Carolina certainly has a few of those.
UNLV, as Al says, is quick, but Auburn has just as many good athletes and has a little more strength. Louisville wins the regional final. Auburn has had a good run. Beating UNLV would give the Tigers three solid games, and they'll be due for a letdown by the time they get to Louisville.
SOUTHEAST--Alabama has lost three times to Kentucky this season, and beating a team four times is very difficult. I'll pick the Tide in an upset. They battled Kentucky close all year, so it wouldn't be that great an upset.
Georgia Tech beats LSU at home. I don't think LSU would have beaten either Purdue or Memphis State had the games not been in Baton Rouge. I think it's safe to assume the Tigers would have been in trouble on a neutral floor. Alabama will be in trouble against Georgia Tech at the Omni.
MIDWEST--I look for Skiles & Co. to be stopped by Kansas, a team playing as solidly as any in the country. Iowa State plays extremely sound team defense, has better guard talent and will eliminate N.C. State. The Wolfpack is a year away and has advanced about as far as could have been expected without good guards.
Kansas vs. Iowa State in the regional final would be the most emotional rematch possible, with the Cyclones well remembering the controversial walking call late in their two-point loss to Kansas in the Big Eight tournament final. Emotion only goes so far, though. Kansas will advance to Dallas.
EAST--Cleveland State has had a great run through the tournament, but I don't think anybody there ever expected anything like this. The Vikings will fall to Navy, led by David Robinson, a player we all may have underestimated. Instead of being just a very good player, he's a great one.
Duke will finally be the team to stop DePaul and then will go on to join ACC rival Georgia Tech in the Final Four.
One more thing: I understand Al says I'm not a personality. That's good, because I don't try to be. That's not what I get paid for. My job is to communicate, explain and report basketball. That doesn't make me the story--like some other guys.