Pauly's Point After

Wes McElroy
March 23, 2018 - 5:47 pm

My takeaways from the show this week.

 

Tuesday: UVA’s historic loss will be a lasting blot on the program. I’m sure Cavaliers fans would like to say they’re over it and that it ended with UMBC’s loss to Kansas State Sunday night, but it will always be there. The pain, the shock, the anger, the distant memory of a monumental season brought to a crushing end in a manner history will always remember. For all the Cavaliers accomplished this season, it still felt as if they needed to break through that wall to the Final Four in order for this campaign to be marked a success. And as the season had gone, it seemed as if this was finally the year that would happen. To look back on what this year had been for Virginia, one would think this was their time. From beating Duke at Cameron Indoor for the first time in 23 years, to going undefeated in ACC road play, to winning the outright conference title and subsequently the conference tournament, to earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, everything had fallen the way of the Wahoos. Until it all came crashing down.

What occurred Friday night in Charlotte was not just the first time a 16-seed had beaten a No. 1, it was a complete dismantling of the consensus top team in the nation by a commuter college whose best-known athletically for its chess team. I am not here to lay blame or to call for an overhaul of Tony Bennett’s style, but what the country witnessed was a team that look overmatched, outplayed and just plain confused – the other on the floor was the No. 16 seed in the South Region. And while the De’Andre Hunter injury hurt, UVA does not rely on one player near enough to lay the blame at that door.

It would be hard enough to swallow as a fan in any other season, but this was no ordinary season. What was shaping up to be Tony Bennett’s most successful year in Charlottesville ended up being the most memorable for one bad reason. And being the first (and so far, only) one to allow something like this to happen will follow this program around until another unsuspecting team falls prey or the Hoos bring home a national championship. From now on, whenever people talk of Virginia basketball, one thing will rush to the forefront of the conversation: They were the first to lose to a 16-seed. They say time heals all wounds, but for something the sports world has never seen before, it will take more than that to repair the damage left in the wake of one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.

 

Wednesday: There’s (another) new football league, and I could care less. It’s been nearly two months since Vince McMahon announced the return of the infamous XFL, promising gimmick-free football that responds directly to what the fans demand. Now, it seems McMahon will have more than one competitor for America’s football obsession in the form of the Alliance of American Football.

The most ironic part about this endeavor is the fact that this new league’s founder, Charlie Ebersol, directed a “30 For 30” on the XFL and will now operate, it appears, in competition with it. And while McMahon come forward with vague ideas about what his league would be and how it would differ from the NFL, Ebersol and company presented a much more detailed plan for their league, including rules, schedule structure and even a TV network deal with CBS. But beyond which league will last longer and be more successful, there is the fact that we have enough football. Maybe it’s just me, but between the NFL and college football, which combine to last from early September through the first week of February, my football craving is more than satisfied. The AAF’s plan is to launch the week after the Super Bowl in 2019, and while it will have people’s attention, it’s too much too soon. For one thing, there are far better times at which to have this season then immediately after the best TV show in the country ends, and for another, we would be kidding ourselves if we think the product will be anywhere near the same quality. One of the biggest complaints about the NFL’s product surrounded Thursday Night Football and the oversaturation of the American sports fan with football (and poor football at that). If one can be beaten over the head with the NFL, a lower-tier product will only yield a worse result. And unlike many Americans, when football season is over, I’m set until the next season. I don’t need two more football leagues to occupy my attention during a time that I have March Madness, the beginning of baseball season and the NHL and NBA Playoffs, among other things.

To the AAF’s credit, there have been talks of possibly working with the NFL as a type of developmental league, like in the NBA, and if they want to last, partnering with the NFL is a far better fate than competing against it. And while this may seem like the right time to introduce new football with ratings being down, the NFL is still king when it comes to football on any level, and that’s not changing anytime soon. And if you ask me, I'll keep my NFL and college football and live without either for six months, because as someone once said, "it's better to leave them wanting more."

 

Thursday: Sam Darnold has cemented himself as the No. 1 pick. True, the Browns have the first pick, so it’s altogether possible they find a way to screw this up, but by all accounts, Darnold has secured his place at the top of the draft. Or, at the very least, the top quarterback. The Browns have been starving for a quarterback for as long as I’ve been alive, and although they signed two in free agency (Tyrod Taylor and AJ McCarron), Darnold made himself difficult to resist with that No. 1 overall pick.

The former USC signal-caller threw in what most would call less than ideal conditions Wednesday in Los Angeles, as a steady rain began to fall shortly after USC’s Pro Day had started. However, the uncharacteristic Southern California rain actually worked in favor of the San Clemente native. Un-phased, Darnold, who did not throw at the Combine, continued his routine and didn’t disappoint. He wowed those in attendance with sharp, accurate passes and tight spirals in spite of the inclement weather. And while they may be shorts on wins in Cleveland, they are not short on rough weather conditions, especially come Fall. And seeing a top prospect like Darnold sling it around effortlessly in a downpour makes the Browns’ decision at the top of the draft much more interesting.

For what it’s worth, I’m not high on any of the quarterbacks in this draft, and I don’t think Darnold is a Week 1 starter, but Cleveland could conceivably sit him behind Taylor and McCarron and still draft an immediate impact player at No. 4. And though he may have impressed Wednesday, one of the biggest knocks on Darnold is his turnover rate, and since you won’t find a free safety or cornerback roaming the secondary at a pro day, there are still some questions that need answering. The concerns are there, but even in the case of the Cleveland Browns, who have missed time and again on “the guy,” if you firmly believe a quarterback is the one, there is only one thing to do: go get him.

 

Friday: Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago will take this thing to the Final Four. It’s only a one-game prediction at this point, and since everybody in America seems to be a believer now it takes away from the boldness. But let the record show that I picked the Ramblers in an upset over Miami long before Jay Bilas went on national TV and told the country to watch out for Loyola-Chicago as a sexy upset pick. I didn’t have them making the Elite Eight, but heck, neither did their own chaplain.

The South region has been an absolute mess since day one, with all top four seeds falling in the first two rounds and paving the way for a small Catholic school from the North side of Chicago to steal the show. As with any Cinderella, they’re a lovable bunch that are a blast to watch, and none more lovable than the team’s 98-year-old chaplain and super fan, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. And aside from their make-the-extra-pass, cut-to-the-basket offense, one thing that has made each of their games so compelling is the thin margins by which they have won. The Ramblers’ three wins in this tournament have come by a combined four points, which is tied for the lowest through three games in tournament history.

Many underdogs before have taken it down to the wire a few times, but Loyola has taken it to a whole new level. When VCU made its magical run as an 11-seed in 2011, the Rams beat Georgetown and Purdue by 18 points apiece before edging Florida State 72-71 in the Sweet 16. They even knocked off top-seeded Kansas by 10. In 2006 when 11-seeded George Mason shocked college basketball, the closest game for the Patriots was a two-point overtime win over No. 1 seed Connecticut in the Elite Eight. Every other game was won by at least five points. The Ramblers, on the other hand, have not only played in tight games throughout, but they continue to get a clutch bucket from a different player every time. From Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater to down Miami to Clayton Custer’s miracle bounce in the final seconds against Tennessee, this team has thrilled the nation from the tip-off to the final shot and reminded everyone why we love this tournament so much. They’ll have another tough test against No. 9 Kansas State, but after what we’ve seen from the Ramblers thus far, is there really any doubt they’ll find a way again? I mean hey, maybe the Good Lord picked the Ramblers in his bracket too.