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March Madness Meets Military Operation

March 23, 2011

During the second stanza of possibly the wildest opening weekend in NCAA tournament history, the United States fired missiles at Libya in a mission known as, “Operation: Odyssey Dawn.” While I won’t get into the politics of the decision to devote military personnel into a third realm of the Middle East, I will call out the obvious. America does two things better than anyone since the ancient Greeks: Sports and War. Not only do we do them well, we also give sweet names to the invasions (“Overlord,” “Rolling Thunder,” “Shock and Awe”) or plays (“The Immaculate Reception,” “The Annexation of Puerto Rico,” “The Shot Heard Round the World”) in regards to both ventures. The ultimate goal of this blog may be to parlay it into a copy-writer position sitting around the Pentagon with a Thesauras and legal pad just making up bad-ass names of missile deployments.

For now, I’ll get back to March Madness. I can still give awesome mission names to the biggest players, teams and stories heading into the Sweet 16. So even if your bracket is more busted than Tiger Woods new girlfriend (google it), enjoy.

OPERATION: SONIC PERIL

Chicks with guns will obviously be the images throughout today's blog.

Victims: Pittsburgh, Texas

Target: Referees

Both of these teams heard the earth-shattering, nightmarish noise that represents imminent death. Much like the noise of a Tomahawk Missile en route to destruction, a referees whistle signaled the end for each of these teams. In both cases, that referee should have been waterboarded as punishment. In both cases, the game tilted on the axis of a referee deciding he is the most important man on the court. For Pitt, refs called a reach in foul on a defensive rebound with the Butler player’s back to the basket, which stood 90 feet away with 1.2 seconds on the clock. Read that again. I honestly don’t care if Matt Howard, the Butler player who corralled the Pitt miss, got shot by a Pitt player who holstered a gun in his jock, you cannot make that call in a tie game.

For Texas, the heartbreak may be worse. The five second inbounding count in basketball gets called less often than an ugly girl after a one night stand. Texas, however, faced off against a referee who not only called it, but called it at FOUR seconds as the Texas player signaled for the timeout at the same time. Instead of Texas being up two and at the free throw line, they allowed an and one that sealed their fate, and booked their flight back to Austin, a round earlier than expected. Hopefully, in the Sweet 16 and onward, referees will learn to swallow their whistles with the game in the balance and anything short of a maimed ear being the infraction.

OPERATION: NUMERIC STUN

Victim: Syracuse, Notre Dame, Purdue

Target: Marquette, Florida St., VCU, Richmond

Nobody picked the current group of 16 teams to qualify for the second week of the NCAA tournament. Literally. Check ESPN’s bracket challenge and not one person got all 16 right. The reason? One 12 seed (Richmond), two 11 seeds (VCU and Marquette) and a 10 seed (Florida St.) who nobody gave more than a passing first game chance to. In VCU’s case, “experts” got on soap boxes in the days leading up to the tournament to argue how badly the committee messed up by picking them. All VCU has done is blow out everyone they’ve played worse than Pauly D’s hair. That includes Purdue, many people’s (mine included) pick to reach the Elite 8.

Florida St. faced a Notre Dame team that almost garnered a number one seed this year. Unfortunately, the Irish couldn’t garner any points against a suffocating Seminole defense. With a matchup against VCU coming, one underdog will be euthanized. Richmond should follow soon after as they have the undesirable duty of playing tourney favorite Kansas.

Which brings us to Marquette. They had already beaten Syracuse once this year, so the recent win shouldn’t have shocked anyone. Marquette’s true upset started before any games were played. Their three best players, do-it-all forwards Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder, and lefty sniper Darius Johnson-Odom are Junior College transfers. Basically, they either came out of high school with an SAT under 820 or no scholarship offers. All three are legitimate talents with the toughness, but maybe not the skill to beat a team of silver-spooned athletes like North Carolina.

OPERATION: MAMMOTH FURY

Battle Tank: Jared Sullinger, the Morris Twins

B52 Bomber: Derrick Williams, Harrison Barnes, Kawhi Leonard

Prey: Unskilled or Undersized Big Men

Any good military operation has its tanks on the ground and its bombers in the air. In both cases, we are talking about some massive machinery doing things never before seen in modern warfare. The same rings true in this year’s NCAA tournament. Here’s a line on each of these guys.

Jared Sullinger: With a posterior that gives Nikki Minaj a run for her money, Sullinger gets the best low post position of any big man in the game. Combine hands that would make a Vietnamese nail technician jealous, and you’ve got a load to handle in the Buckeyes paint.

The Morris Twins: Marcus and Markieff have distinct skills, we’ve been told, but every time somebody on Kansas does anything, whether its a three or a dunk, it’s one of them. As I’ve already postulated, their mother must have birthed them in vitro using the Wolverine aqua pod, and their games thus far (31 pts, 17 rebs combined in round one, 41-24 in round two) have been just as super-heroic.

Derrick Williams: After shooting 58% from three on the year, the 6’8” Williams vaulted himself into the #1 draft pick talk. He has been slashing more en route to games of  22-10 and 17-9 so far in this tourney. His and one against Texas won the game for the ‘Cats, but it might take a true explosion against Duke for Arizona to advance further.

Harrison Barnes: Another 6′ 8” wing, Barnes, the freshman savior, fell victim to the hype machine early. Now he is finally hitting his stride for the Heels, scoring 24 with 16 boards in round one. Then, he got hot with four threes and 22 points in the nailbiter over Washington. Barnes is the total package and if he gets a couple more wins, he may return to #1 overall status by draft time.

Kawhi Leonard: The former California HS Player of the Year is the main reason San Diego St. has been in the top 10 all year. At 6’8” with the wingspan of a 747, Leonard needs to be sharper if the Aztecs want to beat the UConn Kembas. It says something that he has still posted lines of 21-10 and 16-9 without playing a complete game. I just wish he’d ditch the cornrows. They’re so ‘Melo ’03.

OPERATION: FLEETING PULSE

Target: North Carolina, Duke, Kansas; Victim (Potentially): Marquette, Arizona, Richmond

Every one of these blue-blood programs have played very Jekyll and Hyde thus far. While the Tar Heels rolled in the first round, they narrowly escaped a Washington team that hung around all game and almost capped off a late comeback before John Henson deflected an in bounds pass that ended the Huskies run. Duke played a near identical game in their match-up against Michigan. The Wolverines kept hanging around until a late run of their own ended on a missed floater in the lane that would have sent the game to overtime. Meanwhile, Kansas slogged through 30 minutes against my alma mater Boston University until finally pulling away for a 19 point win (Vegas loss). The Jay Hawks looked better in round two, but still allowed a far less talented team in Illinois to keep it tight.

If any of these teams continue to struggle early, with the way this tournament has brought down top seeds, they won’t survive the two games required to reach the Final Four in Houston. Fortunately for all of them, they got good draws in the round of 16 thanks to upsets, and should have one more chance to work the kinks out before a true test in the Elite 8. I still think one of these three giants catch a slingshot to the eye.

OPERATION: TRANSCENDENT STAR

F-16s: Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker

Prey: Any opposing defender

Two names more popular than Bieber and Sheen to the college basketball world are Jimmer and Kemba. The first two rounds of the tournament did nothing to dispel the fact that these are the two most electric superstars in the game. With polar opposite New York styles, (Kemba is the Bronx playground point guard with the ability to get anywhere on the court. Jimmer is the Buffalo combo guard with the ability to shoot from anywhere on the court) the two players rarely resemble each other anywhere but the “PTS” column in a box score. Kemba had just 18 points in UConn’s rout over Bucknell, but he flipped in 12 measly assists while he was at it. Then, everyone got to see the real Kemba Walker. Scoring 16 in the final 10 minutes, Kemba ripped Cincy for 33 points including a perfect 14-14 from the line, with an unofficial four twisted Bearcat ankles and two lost dignities in the process.

Not to be outdone, Jimmer has dropped 30 plus in each of his tourney games. When your name has turned into a verb, as in, “Damn, you just got Jimmered by that white boy,” you know you’re pretty good. In game one, Jimmer had an “off night” the way Warren Buffett has an “off” stock tip, as he only shot 2-9 from distance, but still scored 32.  In his next game, many thought Gonzaga held the advantage across the board. If that was true, nobody accounted for Jimmer. He poured in  7 threes and 34 points. For a kid who grew up going to the local prison in order to find talent on par with his, he has yet to find it in this NCAA tournament. That could spell major problems for the Florida Gators in the Sweet 16, as their point guard, Erving Walker, is 5’8” on a tall day and the man trying to stop Jimmer, Kenny Boynton is banged up with injury.

While they reside on opposite sides of the bracket, and personal style spectrum, Jimmer and Kemba could meet in a national championship game. If that happens, the game would not only decide a National Champion, but also the debate of best player in college basketball.

OPERATION: MYSTICAL FLAW

Target: Ohio St.

Guns, America, Perfect

Victim: The rest of the field

Where is the Buckeyes weakness? In my initial March Madness preview column, they got the Marissa Miller “perfect” tag. I said they were as complete a team as you’d find in college basketball, along with Kansas. Now, after two rounds of play, they are head and shoulders above everyone else. They walked through their warm-up scrimmage with Texas San Antonio, then played even better against George Mason, the hottest team coming into the tournament. That game did pose a threat to the Buckeyes, and even gave a quick window to the soul of the team. Down 11-2 with George Mason players talking trash, Sullinger bumped shoulders with an opposing player and whispered to him, “It’s over, Yo.”

After that guarantee, the Buckeyes closed the first half on a 50-15 run for the ages. When it was all said and done, Sullinger scored 18 in just 22 necessary minutes. William Buford matched those 18 and Jon Diebler scored 13, while each hit four threes. David Lighty poured in 25 points on a perfect 7-7 from distance, thanks to perfect set ups from Aaron Craft who dropped 15 dimes off the bench. No other team in this tournament can have such a statistically perfect box score than the Buckeyes. They have prototype players at every position on the floor, and will never be at a matchup disadvantage. Even when Diebler, Buford or Lighty, in any combination, are off the mark, they can compensate for each other seamlessly.

I obviously just jinxed the Buckeyes into a cold shooting performance, early foul trouble and an upset loss to Kentucky. Thankfully, nobody really reads this blog, so maybe word won’t get out. For the sake of my bracket, it better not.

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