With the morning, afternoon and evening sessions out of the way on Day One of the Big Dance, we’re down to just four more games, featuring Duke, UCLA, Oklahoma and Illinois. You can check out the earlier action by clicking the red live links…
* Duke/Binghamton is underway; the Devils lead 10-7 five minutes in. What’s the percentage of basketball fans around the country you think who are pulling for Duke to lose? Somewhere in the 40s? The 50s? I have a shameful secret: I have Duke going to the Final Four in my bracket. I know, I don’t like them, but teams I don’t like have a history of doing big things against my wishes. Plus, I think this Duke squad is damn good.
* The West Coast feed cuts to the beginning of UCLA/VCU. Everyone’s going to be watching Darren Collison and Eric Maynor, but the more important matchup is going to be Larry Sanders against UCLA’s bigs. If Sanders has a big game, VCU can win this. If he gets in foul trouble — he’s a raw talent who just started playing basketball like three years ago — they become a one-man show with Maynor.
* The play-by-play man (Dick Stockton?) just called Maynor “Eric Gainer” like four straight times. Jay Bilas made a point to say “Maynor” a bunch of times after that to get Stockton back on track.
* VCU has sophomore Joey Rodriguez guarding Collison, while Maynor guards Josh Shipp. That makes sense considering Shipp is more of a straight scorer than Collison and you want to shut him down, but then that leaves the relatively inexperienced Rodriguez having to deal with a four-year player in Collison who is this year’s Toby Bailey. And from what I’ve seen so far, Collison has no problem getting past Rodriguez into the paint.
* Shipp misses a transition layup, then puts his hands up and looks at the ref like he was supposed to do something about it. Maybe Shipp is an NBA player after all. (Turns out it’s Dick Enberg calling the game with Bilas. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m really bad with ID’ing announcers.)
* Looking at the roster, UCLA has a kid named Matt DeMarcus. When the hell did “DeMarcus” become a last name?
* Midway through the first half, it’s tied at 13-all. Scoreboard check: Duke is up 10 on Binghamton, Oklahoma is up 10 on Morgan State, and Illinois/Western Kentucky just tipped off. Now Maynor is guarding Collison, and vice versa. And just as I wrote that, Collison picked up his second foul but stays in the game.
* UCLA’s Michael Roll (picture Matt Carroll in college) and Nikola Dragovic (picture a 6-9 forward named Nikola Dragovic) “connect” for the ugliest attempted alley-oop ever. Dragovic reacted to the ball like it was an angry pigeon flying at his face and had it go right through his hands.
* VCU was ahead by one with five minutes left, but Sanders had to go to the bench with his second foul. So far he’s 0-for-5 from the floor with a couple of free throws. UCLA takes advantage and goes ahead by four, forcing turnovers and scoring in the paint.
* Corner three by Shipp against the VCU zone makes it a seven-point lead for UCLA. Rodriguez comes back on the other end and air-balls a shot that he took three feet from the rim, and Shipp scores again to make it a nine-point game. NBADraft.net has Shipp going undrafted. Collison adds a three (he’s projected to go late-first round) and VCU is falling apart. At halftime it’s 35-25, UCLA.
* We cut to Illinois/Western Kentucky, where WKU is up by 12 midway through the first half. The Illini are shooting 7-for-20 from the field, and the Hilltopprs aren’t carrying themselves like a 12-seed; they’ve been here before.
* So what do you think motivates Illinois’ Jeff Jordan to get up and work hard every day? When you know that even if you fail miserably at basketball and at school, the WORST you can do is still a pretty cushy position position at Jordan Brand or with the Charlotte Bobcats or at Nike or at the University of North Carolina sports department, what keeps you from not being lazy? (Add on to that the knowledge that no matter how hard you work, you’re never going to be seen as a good-enough ballplayer compared to your Dad.) Jeff Jordan could decide to be the real-life Tommy Boy and nobody would be surprised.
* Maynor helps cut the UCLA lead to five, while Duke and Oklahoma are both up by about 20 in their games. Western Kentukcy is up nine at the half.
* UCLA went about six minutes without a field goal before Shipp tipped one in, then comes back and scores again to give the Bruins some more breathing room. He’s basically carrying them right now.
* VCU’s Ed Nixon (who Bilas has said repeatedly is the best athlete on the team) just made a subtle, yet pretty amazing play. Nixon was running into the lane full-speed to crash the boards when Sanders bricked a shot off the side of the backboard at a weird angle. Nixon jumped when the shot was released, adjusted in mid-air to the odd trajectory, and put down the follow in one motion. Hard to describe, but a great play if you saw it. Sanders splits a couple free throws to bring VCU within five with just under 10 minutes left.
* Dragovic flops and starts holding his throat when T.J. Gwynn caught him with an elbow. Not only did the refs call Gwynn for the foul, they checked the video to make sure it shouldn’t have been a flagrant. “That’s some bullsh*t, man,” Gwynn says. Agreed.
* Editorializing for a change, Greg Gumbel tells us we’re about to see the “bush league” play of the day: One of Morgan State’s guys getting tied up with Blake Griffin, then using Blake’s arm to flip him over his head and onto Griffin’s back. I’m surprised that didn’t start a near-brawl. The Morgan State player was ejected and Griffin seemed to be OK.
* Now we have a game. Maynor hit a floater, a three, then dimed Rodriguez for a three, and now it’s a three-point game with under three minutes to go. Collison gets a driving lefty layup to put UCLA up by five, but VCU has the momentum right now. Ben Howland is probably starting to get sick.
* After Sanders swats a shot off the glass, Maynor starts the break and has three guys chasing him and only him. Almost losing the handle and falling out of bounds, he flips a pass behind him to a teammate for an open layup. Under two minutes to go, UCLA leads by three.
* Rodriguez is clapping his hands and acting like a fake Wojo on D, then Collison proceeds to damn near drop him with a crossover before dishing to Alfred Aboya, who misses the layup. Luckily for Rodriguez, that won’t end up on the highlight reel.
* Dick Enberg stumbles all over himself trying to say “shocking shot-blocking” when talking about Larry Sanders. He gives it three tries before giving up. One-point game with 1:19 to go.
* Nice pick-and-roll by Jrue Holiday and Aboya against the zone, and Aboya gets fouled. He makes both freebies.
* I got this e-mail earlier today from one of the Dime crew who’s out in Portland: “Todd MacCulloch just walked by me. No joke — 350 pounds with man-boobs.”
* Maynor gets to the line and hits both shots. UCLA up one, 48 seconds left. Collison goes to work on Maynor and gets into the lane, but Sanders sends his layup packing. Shot-clock violation, VCU’s ball with 11 seconds left. Great way to close the first day of games.
* VCU has to go full-court. Maynor brings it up and gets around a trap by Shipp and Collison. Then gets stuck on the left elbow. He gets off a fadeaway J over Collison, but it’s way short, barely catching iron. UCLA survives, and my bracket is looking nice.
* Notable stats from the last batch of games: Six guys score in double figures for Duke, led by Jon Scheyer‘s 15; Josh Shipp had 16 points and eight boards for UCLA, while Eric Maynor finished with 21 points, six boards and five assists in the loss; and Blake Griffin had 28 points, 13 boards and one Warrior Slam in the Sooners’ 30-piecing of Morgan State.
* Hold up: We’ve got a game in Portland. Western Kentucky has let Illinois creep back into it, and now they’re only up by three with 32 seconds left.
* WKU hits the touchdown inbound pass, but Steffphon Pettigrew (Really? You needed the two F’s and the P?) misses the layup. He does get fouled, though, hitting both. Illinois sprints down and gets a layup to make it a three-point game again.
* Illinois cuts it to two with eight seconds left, before the clock (at least the one on TV) does some funny stuff and appears to buy Illinois a little more time. With 0.9 on the clock, WKU’s Anthony Sally hits both free throws to ice it. Ballgame. Good night.