Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
This year has obviously been different, with the media casting (and the president) casting us as the underdog in last night's game (interesting fact: 70% or so of participants in ESPN's bracket challenge selected us to win...so take whatever you want from that). I've thought about this different feel for this season/tournament, aside from the losses, the mesh of our team, etc. and a striking point came up in previous posts concerning our first weekend games.
The quality of our opponents from the last three years was not, to say the least, of major conference quality. Not to take anything from what Belmont, Weber State, and MVSU did during their respective seasons and conference tourneys, but I thought it was somewhat of a disadvantage for us as a 1 or 2 seed to take on what should be a win in the first round. Given that a team does the game planning, scouting, and preparation for the game, they should be fine, and I think Howland's teams do that (see our Thursday night record in Pac-10 play). It's the second round game these last three years that have been a bump in the tournament road, whether it be Alabama, Indiana, or Texas A&M.
Giving it more thought, our team gameplans for two opponents during the conference season; that day in between is just a walkthrough, a quick practice, a meeting, etc. There is simply no way that a team can prepare for an opponent in one day, that should be obvious. In the case of the NCAAs, we essentailly have to scout for three teams during the course of the week. Our current example would be VCU, Villanova, and American. In years past, it seemed to me that the first round game for our guys was simply a warm-up, and it essentially is. So to finally get to the main points of my thoughts: I think that the preparation is there for the second round game, but whether it was the lack of time with that one dead day or a rough transition from playing a okay opponent to a quality one, that second round game ends up being the wake-up call for our teams, reminding them that this is the NCAAs: a loss means the end of the road.
So what about this year? I think the lower seed (which I disagreed with back on Sunday) might have worked to our favor. Playing VCU, a quality opponent from a mid-major conference, in the first round might have served as that wake-up tournament call. I say might because, as we saw in the conference tournament, the team got the win over Wazzu, only to lost to $C. However, I believe that the team is well aware that they can't afford to slip up; the close wins of the the last three years in the second round became this year's first round close win. The results of the last three years ended in deep tournament runs, so there's a chance, a chance, that the team gets in that groove a game early this year. I'm fairly confident that Howland's preparation during this past week for our second round opponent, dependant on a first round win, would have leaned more towards Villanova. I think last night's game got us up-to-speed and reminded us that every team will be playing to win (just as VCU's coach said), a reminder that comes a game early for our team and I think that works in our favor.
That being said, we are playing Villanova in Philadelphia. Call in karma, call it a twist of fate; we've had the benefit of playing our first and second weekend games close to home. We've had the benefit of a pro-UCLA crowd because our all our games have been in California (with the exception of nearby Phoenix): San Diego, Sacramento, Anaheim, Oakland, San Jose. We are no longer in the friendly confines of California. Let's see how this team responds in what is basically a true road game in the tournament.