Boxed Out: Bill Frieder on the tournament’s first week

03/26/2013

Boxed Out by Bill FriederSo there’s a 15 in the 16 (the Sweet 16, that is) as Florida Gulf Coast pulled off the biggest surprise in dominating both Georgetown and San Diego St. to advance. It was the seventh time a 15 beat a 2, but the first time that a #15 seed followed with another victory to advance to the second weekend. Gulf Coast was paced by Sherwood Brown’s 41 points on 12 of 21 shooting over the two games and Brett Comer, who racked up 24 assists. The Eagles are an athletic team capable of beating anyone, so be ready Florida.

Just Ducky:

Another surprise was Oregon beating both a 4 and 5 seed in San Jose – first Oklahoma State, then St. Louis. Oregon can play and should have been seeded in the 8-9 range, but the committee didn’t give enough credit to their Pac-12 tournament win or the fact that they had injured starters out for nine games. The Ducks will give Louisville a game.

Exploring the West:

13th-seeded La Salle will have a tough time out West, but deserve tons of credit as they had to win three games to get to Los Angeles.

Heard a great story about Explorers head coach Dr. John Giannini. La Salle wouldn’t have made it out of the second round against Kansas St. if big man Jerrell Wright hadn’t made seven of eight from the foul line down the stretch in a 63-61 win. Wright was a 62.6% free throw shooter during the season! How’d it happen? Giannini said he had this tip for his 6’8″ forward as he struggled from the line this year: clear your mind and think of only one word while at the line. And repeat it over and over: “In, in, in, in, in…” Are you surprised that the “Dr.” in Giannini’s title comes thanks to his doctorate in sports psychology?

Taking on all Comers:

Let’s jump back to FGCU for a second. It is this time of the year that a player becomes a national sensation and we all wonder how every coach in American could miss him. Brett Comer is this year’s version. An important thing to remember is that some kids want to play right away, and that might mean staying close to home at a mid-major. Just because he did this over two games doesn’t mean he could do it night-in and night-out in the SEC or the Big East. But man is he good! With 24 assists in those two games, his confidence is off the charts. This is not the guy who had six turnovers in 28 minutes in a February 16 loss to Lipscomb.

Still plenty of chalk left:

Bottom line is this. As we said all year, there’s great parity, but we still have the 6 to 10 elite teams at the top as indicated by the top four seeds making it to Washington, D.C. The 1-2-3 seeds are still alive in the Midwest. And 1-3-4 made it to North Texas. Add in 2nd-seeded Ohio State out West and you have 11 of the top 16 teams in America still alive.

Big Four from Big Ten:

The Big Ten proved what we’ve been saying all along: it’s the best conference in basketball this season. With four teams still alive and split with one in each of the four regions, there’s a chance of an all-Big Ten Final Four in the heart of SEC country. That said, the B1G has won only one national championship in 23 years, so maybe it’s about time.

Disappointing results:

Biggest disappointments? For the fourth straight year, Georgetown bowed out against a double-digit seed. UNLV has also lost to lower seeds in each of the last four years and hasn’t won a tournament game since 2008.

Final thought:

I can tell you that Ben Howland did a great job in getting UCLA to three Final Fours and recruiting NBA talent to Westwood. He won Pac-12 titles. But at the end of the day, you can never win enough. He gave UCLA a good decade, which is pretty much all one can ask for at a school like that unless you are winning a title every five years. Ditto for Tubby Smith. Minnesota had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997 when he got there, and when he did beat UCLA this year, all it did was get him fired.

On that note, La Salle’s John Giannini was 88-115 in his first seven seasons at La Salle. Give their administration credit for having confidence in their guy and sticking to him. When they are enjoying the Southern California weather this weekend, you can be sure they’ll be glad they did.

– Bill Frieder

Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball. This weekend, Bill will be alongside Wayne Larrivee for the West Regional semifinals and final at the Staples Center in L.A. You can listen live right here on WestwoodOneSports.com.

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