When you trumpet on the first page of your blog or newspaper that you have a great pick for a first-round upset, you are truly putting yourself out there. It is a high-risk, high-reward thing to do. If you're right, you look like a genius. If you're wrong, you're supposed to stick to football, kid, and thanks for playing.
Yesterday, I really put myself out there, saying (in no particular order) that I 1) had Bucknell beating UConn in all of my brackets, and 2) gave ten reasons as to why it was a rational pick to take the Bison to beat the Huskies.
Trust me, it felt and sounded good at the time.
But as often happens with the best of us, I was humbled in a massive way by this NCAA Tournament. G Kemba Walker decided to dish the ball instead of shooting it, and the end result was an 81-52 rout that actually was less competitive than the final score indicated. It was one of those games that was over at halftime.
Why didn't it happen? Below the flip are five reasons. (more)
- UConn made this a statement game. "You gotta make choices," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said after the game as reported by the Washington Examiner. "Their choice was 'Kemba's not going to beat us.' But he did. He did by making everyone around him better." That was Calhoun's point before the game to his players, and his players executed on that gameplan perfectly. Whereas one of the keys to the game was having UConn overlook Bucknell at least to some degree, it never happened. The Huskies came to blow them out of the building - and did so.
- Defensive Rebounding. Crucial to the Bison's shot at an upset was to limit UConn's shots to one-and-done, which would include a strong rebounding effort underneath by kids like F Mike Muscala. But the Bison were unable to get position under the boards thanks to the efforts of "the other" Huskies like C Alex Oriakhi (12 boards) and Roscoe Smith (7 boards). You can lose the overall rebounding battle, but nobody's going to pull an upset getting out-boarded 41-23.
- Incredibly dumb fouls to open the game. Not even two minutes into the game, Walker's defensive assignment, G Bryan Cohen, had his first foul, as did Muscala to give the Huskies a three-point play. While the Bison wouldn't commit another foul for a while after that, it put Bucknell on the back foot right off the bat and allowed UConn to press on the accelerator early. In a game of momentum, those fouls really gave the Huskies momentum, which led to...
- A Slow Shooting Start. Watching Bucknell miss two layups to start the game to go with equal numbers of rebounds (1) to turnovers (1) in the first four minutes, I was scratching my head wondering where the team went that started the Patriot League semifinal with 6-for-8 shooting. I understand that it's not all the Bison's fault, of course, but the Bison were going to at least have to match UConn basket for basket in that early going, and they didn't do it.
- Pace. Bucknell's hopes to upset UConn were to slow down the tempo, make it a possession-to-possession game, and hit strong shots off of screens to keep the game close. UConn set the pace with torrid shooting from the get-go, and once they said it was going to be s drag race of a game, the Bison had no choice but to try to keep up with 3-point shooting. Once that was done it was over.
Two more final bits of information about Bucknell's game that are worth repeating. First, was a post from John Feinstein's blog with the following observation:
Connecticut is for real. That week in The Big East was no fluke. Bucknell is not a bad mid-major team and it had NO chance against the Huskies. They have a truly great player in Kemba Walker; they’re deep; they have great size and length and they have a coach who knows what to do this time of year. If they end up in the Final Four it will be no surprise to me.
That comment, and the following piece from the Express-Times before the game:
On the surface, it would be ludicrous to think Bucknell stacks up player for player against the powerful Huskies. But this is that time of year when anything is possible. As far as I'm concerned, the first two days of this tournament are all about the Belmonts, Valparaisos, Princetons and Bucknells of the world.
It shows that I wasn't completely crazy. Small comfort, I know, with my brackets shredded to pieces and my upset pick blowing up in my face. But I know the NCAA Tournament has humbled many over the years - and it will continue to humble a lot more people over the course of the next three weeks as well. Better to be strong in the prediction and humble in defeat than to be a coward and not pick the game at all.