By MICHAEL KELLY and ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
As if being wrong about everything a week ago was not enough, we're back at it again and ready to provide our unsolicited thoughts on this weekend's action in the NCAA Tournament.
The highlights -- lowlights? -- of last week's back-and-forth between the Recorder's Michael Kelly and Adam Shinder: Adam offered his big upset of the tournament to be Marquette, now bound for the Sweet 16, going out in the Round of 64; Michael suggested that it would be a dull tournament with relatively few meaningful upsets; Adam predicted that Doug McDermott was primed to lead Creighton on a huge run in the Big Dance; and, Michael said that no team in the field had gotten a better draw than Wisconsin.
Anyway, this time around, get ready to read a lot about Florida Gulf Coast University and be wary of Recorder Editor Charlie Kraebel doing his best WWE-impression run-in.
MK: While pretending to do work or something, we've talked about it and agreed that the most impressive team of the tournament's first weekend was Florida Gulf Coast University, as the Eagles pretty much blew through Georgetown and San Diego State University to become the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16. Now, am I crazy to think that FGCU is capable of reaching the Final Four? Because I am all in on the Eagles -- and I feel like there are real basketball reasons to favor FGCU this weekend besides the team's story and its spectacular mascot, Azul the Eagle.
AS: You're not crazy (or, to put a more pessimistic slant on it, we're both crazy), because this team is certainly capable. This is an athletic team that plays with absolutely no fear -- you don't throw crazy lob passes as much as the Eagles do if you're intimidated -- and beat a Miami team during the regular season that's now considered a definite national title contender. A regional semifinal against Florida and then either Kansas or Michigan certainly isn't the easiest road, but against what they've already done? Nobody's betting against FGCU right now.
MK: In watching them play their first two games, the thing that really stood out to me about the Eagles -- besides Azul, who is the freaking man/eagle -- is that FGCU's big men are legitimate. Usually when we see a mid-major squad go nuts in the tournament, it is because the club's perimeter players are fantastic -- and, while point guard Brett Comer is quickly becoming one of my seven favorite college basketball players of all time, guys like FGCU's Chase Fieler and Eddie Murray give the Eagles the necessary skill down low to go far in the Dance.
AS: Thing is, I want the Eagles to keep going. Who doesn't? In two short games, they've become America's adopted team thanks to the coach with a supermodel wife, the insanely daring point guard, the absurd alley-oops and the way they actually seem to have, y'know, FUN while playing the GAME of basketball. Of course, seeing as I've still got Florida in my Final Four (part of a ruined bracket that's still standing) I think the magic ends at Cowboys Stadium.
MK: I'm not sure I see the logic behind suggesting FGCU's run has to end because they're playing a team in your tattered bracket; if anything, that seems to be in the Eagles' favor, no? With that said, the quickness of the Florida guards and the strength of the Gators' overall resume does make it tough to pick FGCU in this one -- but, I am.
AS: Hey, I got to at least try to stand by my horribly busted picks.
The (other) underdogs
AS: FGCU has been by far the best story of the tournament so far, but they're far from the only Cinderella still standing. Twelfth-seeded Oregon is still standing in the Midwest, while No. 9 Wichita State and No. 13 La Salle will meet in the West for a spot in the Elite Eight? Of the underdogs that the Eagles have made everyone else ignore, who has the best chance of keeping their run going this weekend?
MK: It's got to be Wichita State, right? I realize I am asking a lot of semi-rhetorical questions here, but the Shockers are legitimately favored in their Sweet 16 game. While I've written at every opportunity during the past 10 days or so how much I did not respect Gonzaga's resume, Wichita State is the only one of these three lesser-seeded teams to knock off a "true giant" of the college basketball scene this season.
AS: Honestly, you're right, but I must provide a disclaimer for BLATANT PHILLY HOMERISM as I make the case for the La Salle Explorers. They've got four players who average in double figures, led by Ramon Galloway, and they've taken the 2011 VCU route of building momentum by coming out of the First Four. They don't have the quality win that the Shockers did in beating the Zags, but they did take out SEC Tournament champ Ole Miss and college basketball's Villain of the Week, Marshall Henderson. That's gotta count for something, right?
MK: You do have a point, but -- wait a minute. The referee is down ... and what is that noise? Could it be? It is! It's Recorder Editor Charlie Kraebel's music!
CK: Yo, Kelly and Shinder-man, I'm really happy for both you. I'ma let you finish, but Oregon is the most under-seeded team of all time. The most under-seeded team of all time!
It's an absolute crime -- well, a crime for bracket-watchers, not necessarily the Ducks -- that they came into this tournament as a 12-seed.
Oregon finished the season 28-8 (with only two out-of-conference losses, although one of them was UTEP, a team no one should lose to) and easily won the Pac-12 tournament, yes, escaping with a three-point win over Washington before rolling over Utah and beating regular season conference champ UCLA by nine in the final. Incidentally, the Ducks swept the Bruins during the season.
In the first two games of the NCAA tournament, they've pasted both teams they've played: a 68-55 win over Oklahoma State and a 74-57 beat-down of the Billikens from St. Louis.
Disrespected much? While the Pac-12 may no longer be a powerhouse conference in college basketball, it's still one of the big dogs. Any team that finishes second in that conference and wins its tournament is way more deserving of better than a 12-seed.
Oregon's got a tough test coming up in the Round of 16, having to face off against top-seeded Louisville. This is a much better matchup that it appears on the surface. Oregon is a much more physical team than what we're used to seeing from the Pac-12 and they play sound defense. From what I've seen of them so far, they're very athletic and can create all sorts of matchup problems.
OK, I'll let you guys finish. Just don't ask me to name five players on that team, although I doubt either of you two Wonder Twins could do it without a cheat sheet, either.
MK: It is a testament to how far we've come in the past few years as a society that people can now make that Kanye West reference and have others smile without feeling bad. You know, because T-Swift turned out to be crazy and all.
MK: This isn't exactly related to the play on the court this weekend, but we've seen one high-profile job come open this past week (UCLA) and two big-name coaches lose their jobs (UCLA's Ben Howland and Minnesota's Tubby Smith). News came out this week that VCU's Shaka Smart is working on a new deal with the Rams and Butler's Brad Stevens is probably staying with the Bulldogs for their move to the Big East -- so, the country's two most intriguing young coaches will not likely take part in this year's coaching carousel. With that said, which coach or coaches do you think this weekend is the most important to, career-wise?
AS: Wichita State's Gregg Marshall has proved himself in a tough mid-major conference, the Missouri Valley, and made the NCAAs seven times in nine years at Winthrop before that. Mark Turgeon used the Wichita State job to springboard to Texas A&M and later Maryland, so it wouldn't shock (bad pun alert) me at all if Marshall parlays his team's run into a major conference job.
MK: OK, but Marshall is not going to be the guy getting the UCLA job, which is (arguably still) a top-five job in the sport. Is the person that ends up getting that job still coaching in this tournament? Is positioning one's self for the Bruins job the main carrot for every coach left in the Big Dance, not named Jim Boehim, Bill Self or Mike Krzyzewski?
AS: Well ... not everyone. I don't see Tom Crean wanting to leave Indiana right now, Billy Donovan's already (kinda) left Florida once and Jim Larranaga just got to Miami, but for a guy like Buzz Williams at Marquette, I could definitely see the lure of the Westwood mystique and history. Could it also be the job that finally tempts a guy like Tom Izzo away from Michigan State, where he's pretty much set for life?
MK: To me, I think Izzo is an MSU lifer -- but, Izzo almost left a few years ago to coach LeBron James and the Cavaliers. While I agree that he is "set for life" at MSU, he's the level of coach that he could go to UCLA, fail ... and still get a great rebound job. However, I think he stays put.
Here's a name I'd like you to weigh in on: Rick Pitino. There's two reasons why I don't think it is crazy to think Pitino heads to UCLA. First off, the Cardinals are headed to the ACC and Pitino may decide that putting himself in the same conference as Duke and North Carolina is not the greatest career move. Secondly, isn't Louisville kind of low-key for Pitino's tastes? Does it seem as weird to you as it does to me that a guy who coached, in succession, the New York Knicks, Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Celtics has been spending his final prime coaching years in the shadows?
AS: You know, that's so crazy it just might work.
AS: Everyone loves the insanity of the first weekend of the tournament, but for quality, I'll take the regional semifinals and finals every time. This year, we've got some terrific Sweet 16 matchups and a few potential crackers in the Elite Eight. What are you most intrigued by this weekend?
MK: I'm going to skip over the weekend's most intriguing known matchup -- FGCU vs. Florida -- and instead focus on the battle between Good and Evil that is Michigan State vs. Duke. I'm not going to pretend to know a whole lot about this season's Spartans -- Mateen Cleaves graduated, right? -- but I do know that Tom Izzo's teams always come to play in the tournament. Are you more excited about this game, Kansas-Michigan, or are you going to go all-homer on us again and work in some love for Syracuse?
AS: I could ... but I really do think Kansas vs. Michigan is the most interesting game of the weekend. I (who am always wrong) predicted Michigan would go out in the first round, but the Wolverines looked great in wins over South Dakota State and VCU. Inserting freshman Mitch McGary into the starting five gave John Beilein's team some much-needed energy, while Kansas has only looked good in one of the four halves its played so far -- the second half vs. North Carolina. Because I am always wrong, Michigan will plow through the field and win the national title.
MK: ... Which now means that Michigan is doomed. Nice job, Adam.