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March 28, 2014

On The Rebound: Top takeaways from first round of tourney

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The finale might let me down, but the opening weekend of this NCAA Tournament ranks as my all-time favorite. Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas losing in the first weekend is like getting three wishes from the basketball genie.

If you add to that UK beating an unbeaten Wichita State and potentially beating Louisville, it’s hard to imagine a better script that didn’t include Christian Laettner getting stomped by Aminu Timberlake.

Here is what I have learned from the tournament so far:

8. This may be my favorite, but it is No. 8 because it is the most obvious. We heard all season about how down the SEC was and few could argue that the three teams the SEC got into the tournament were all they deserved. Since all three got into the tournament, maybe we were all wrong. It will be interesting to see what the SEC does the rest of the tournament. Add the hiring of Bruce Pearl at Auburn and it’s a good sign for the league.

7. The return of class. You cannot be a UK fan and an ACC fan, but I will give them a nod for this. When Duke lost, Coach K made a trip to the Mercer locker room to congratulate them.

North Carolina’s game featured one of the most bizarre ending’s ever. Larry Williams tried to call a timeout, but wasn’t noticed. A player called a timeout, but the officials ruled that he shouldn’t have gotten a timeout because the clock started late. Williams did not lose his mind ala Jim Boheim, he congratulated the other coach.

“We practice that all the time. All five guys on the court and our bench should have been calling a timeout. You can’t lay that on the officials. We made a mistake,” Williams said.

6. Did you notice Indiana wasn’t in the tournament?

5. The return of class Part II. There sure were a lot of player and coaches thanking God for their success. The one that surprised me most was Jarnell Stokes of Tennessee. The Volunteers version of the Incredible Hulk appears soft spoken and even humble. I might root for him despite the color he wears.

4. The return of the senior is long overdue. The David vs. Goliath marketing of the NCAA tournament is still one of the biggest boosts to the ratings. Big wins by teams like Mercer, Dayton, and Harvard will continue to build this legend. The underlying truth is that most of these teams that are winning do have seniors or experienced players. Even if UK does win the title with their mostly-freshman lineup, all coaches will take a hard look at one-and-done. Yes, that includes John Calipari.

3. Aaron Craft played like a Kentucky boy. Craft is actually from Findlay, Ohio but the scene of him taking the final shot is one I will take away from this tournament. Craft appeared to have nothing left in the tank after his last-second effort against Dayton skipped off the rim. Craft is one of the few players I can relate to. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds he’s more will power than athletic ability. Many opposing fans can’t stand Craft. If he played for UK, you would love him. That is unless you didn’t like Travis Ford, Jeff Brassow, or Richie Farmer.

2. Game one. I was trying to figure out how to spend $1 billion of Warren Buffett’s money if my bracket was perfect ( I honestly wondered how many starving children that would feed in Africa). Then they played the first game and I missed it. The great take away from this was that 85 percent of the country missed the same game, so nobody else got my money.

1. I just checked and Indiana is still not in the tournament.

mhoward@sentinel-echo.com

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