November madness: Less catchy, very real

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
1:08
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It's not exactly memorable, is it? "November madness." There's no alliteration. It isn't catchy. It doesn't roll off the tongue. There is nary a pun to be found.

But it does have something far more interesting to offer: a concise and evocative way to tell you exactly what happened Thursday, on the 2013-14 season's first day of holiday tournaments.

Because the first day of the holiday tournament season was exactly that: mad. It gave us everything we'd hope to see on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. There were buzzer-beaters and overtimes, upsets and disappointments, shocks and surprises. Heck, Georgetown even lost to a mid-major. By mid-afternoon, you could be forgiven for checking your calendar.

It was a testament to the sheer battiness of the day that Georgetown's loss to Northeastern -- a decent Colonial program but nonetheless one with losses to Boston University and Stony Brook already on the ledger -- might not have been the most surprising of the day.

[+] EnlargeShaka Smart
AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoVCU coach Shaka Smart, usually the one directing the upset, could could only watch as his 10th-ranked Rams were stunned by Florida State.
That honor should belong to Florida State-Virginia Commonwealth. It's a testament to Shaka Smart's program that we could say that, given how just three years ago, in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen, VCU's win over Florida State's immense defense was one more shocking result on the Rams' meteoric path from unlikely First Four inclusion to eventual Final Four participant. Since then, Florida State has lost a battery of key players, and lost out on uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins, while the Rams have turned Smart's pressure-defense style into an art form. VCU entered Thursday ranked No. 10 in the country; the Rams were No. 7 in adjusted efficiency; they were forcing opponents to cough the ball up on 29 percent of their defensive possessions. They were heavy favorites over FSU, and rightfully so.

Instead, the Rams got smacked 85-67. How? The defense that Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton perfected and then lost last season was on full display once more, holding VCU's typically accurate shooters to just 21.7 percent from 3 and 33.3 percent inside the arc. The Rams still forced their share of turnovers -- 29.1 percent, to be exact -- but that was the only phase of Thursday's game in which they were better than the Seminoles. All those clangs amounted to just .82 points per trip, and Florida State's Okaro White, Ian Miller and Devon Bookert thrived on the long rebounds that ensued.

Georgetown's offense was only slightly better, which is to say it was also very bad. Northeastern entered the Puerto Rico Tip-Off allowing 1.02 points per possession; the Hoyas mustered a whopping 56 points in 63 trips. After a breakout season opener in South Korea, forward Joshua Smith reverted to his UCLA form: 9 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes. Markel Starks went 2-of-12 from the field. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the lone ostensible bright spot, went 5-of-14. It was reminiscent of the Hoyas' routine March collapses in recent years. As Casual Hoya so perfectly put it, the Hoyas were already in "postseason form." Yikes.

And that's still barely scratching the surface! Consider the breadth of insanity here:

  • Kansas State's also-not-very-good offense limped to a 68-61 loss to Charlotte in Puerto Rico.
  • Nebraska and UMass combined for 105 points -- yes, 105 points -- in the second half of their first-round Charleston Classic matchup, one UMass held on to win 96-90.
  • Connecticut, seemingly one of the surest bets of the day, needed all 40 minutes, a poorly run last-second play, and a great (but risky!) block by guard Ryan Boatright to hold off 1-3 Boston College and its suddenly capable defense.
  • A rebuilding Davidson plowed through a rebuilding (which is generous, but go with it) Georgia Bulldogs team. That may or may not be an upset. Your mileage may vary.

And then there was New Mexico. The Lobos' early-season form suggested they'd handle UAB with ease in the first round in Charleston; frankly, we expected them to roll to the title. Instead, they required a last-second Kendall Williams heave in regulation and a wide-open Alex Kirk 3 in the first of two overtimes to get rid of UAB. Williams hilariously shimmied after his crazy buzzer-beater, an act of startling confidence for a player who had just made a drastically low-percentage shot to avoid an ugly upset. But by the end of overtime No. 2, the Lobos looked exhausted and relieved in equal measure.

It was that kind of day. There were a few expected results: Michigan handled Long Beach State in Puerto Rico, Indiana took care of an undermanned Washington at Madison Square Garden, Florida cruised against Middle Tennessee. But everywhere else -- especially when teams met in single-elimination settings on neutral courts -- chaos reigned.

Forget the freshmen and the All-Americans and everything other narrative about why this season is special: For one day, the wildly unpredictable, occasionally ugly, thoroughly lovable college basketball was back. Is this season going to be great or what?

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