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You’re Nuts: Your favorite game of the NCAA Tournament (so far)

This year’s March Madness has been exactly that — madness.

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Your favorite game of the NCAA Tournament (so far)


Josh’s Take: St. Peters over Kentucky

I’ve got two words for ya, Gene, and no, they have nothing to do with D-Generation X. Those two words are Doug Edert. I’ll get to him later, but first, I just have to say that I forgot how fun and exciting March Madness can be. I’m talking about fans in the stands, cheerleaders on the baseline, leaving work early to watch on a Thursday — the whole, real experience. We were robbed of it the last two years, and I cannot accurately describe how genuinely happy I was to see this tournament return in all its glory. For my money (of which the tournament regularly robs me of), it is the best weeks-long, yet condensed sporting event their is. Let me explain.

The NFL playoffs and college football’s CFP/bowl season are right up there for me, but the sample size of games is much smaller (a few per weekend). The NBA playoffs are when I really dial in to basketball, but every series being a best-of-seven can lead to the whole thing feeling dragged out. Baseball? We’re still not on speaking terms. But the NCAA Tournament just gets everything right. The number of teams and timing of games is perfect. The single-loss elimination format is the best in sports. No home games, weird matchups, David vs. Goliath — March Madness simply does not miss. And the added intensity of a loser-goes-home scenario makes it all that much more exciting when a buzzer beater goes down, or a Cinderella team gets to keep dancing. And speaking of Cinderella...

St. Peter’s is this year’s version. The Peacocks out of New Jersey are now poised to become just the third 15-seed to ever make an appearance in the Sweet 16, but they began the tournament viewed (by most) as a sacrificial lamb to John Calipari and his blueblood Kentucky Wildcats. However, the MAAC champs did not flinch and their confidence never wavered against Cal’s Cats, despite being 18-point underdogs. When all was said and done, the Peacocks were able to notch the fifth-biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Daryl Banks III and my guy Doug Edert were the driving forces behind their big opening round victory, but the entire team is a joy to watch.

The mustachioed menace and his St. Peter’s teammates have been one of the highlights of the tournament for me, so naturally, their upset of Kentucky has been my favorite game of the opening two rounds. The Peacocks stood toe-to-toe with the Wildcats all game long, during which we saw 16 ties and 13 lead changes. Kentucky threw a punch, St. Peter’s countered. St. Peter’s would go on a mini-run, then the traditional powerhouse would bring them back down to Earth. It was really just a well-played, entertaining basketball game, regardless of who was wearing which jersey out there.

The final number (surrendered) on the scoreboard read 79, but St. Peter’s played smart, aggressive defense against most of Kentucky’s roster — which is exactly what they're known for. The Peacocks only gave up 62 points per game on defense during the regular season - good for 19th in the country - but they knew they didn’t have the size and/or strength to stop Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, so they clamped down on every other Wildcat and took advantage of a zone at times. Stud freshman TyTy Washington went just 2-for-10 from the field for the Wildcats, and sharpshooting transfer Kellan Grady could not find many open looks (1-of-9 overall, 1-of-7 from beyond the arc). The Peacocks minimized the impact of every other player on the court, and let Tshiebwe get his, which is really the best strategy in a game like this. On the offensive end, St. Peter’s rode a heater from Banks III, and got a surprise performance from Edert.

Banks III and Edert combined for 47 points in the opening round — as opposed to the 21 they combined to average during the regular season. Banks is a guy who shot less than 40% from the field during the season, and Edert comes off the bench, but they both got hot at the right time. The two guards hit seven threes and went 12-for-12 at the charity stripe. Furthermore, they each helped carry the team when it was needed most. Banks put up 16 in the first half to keep St. Peter’s close, while Edert did most of his damage during the pivotal second half/overtime. As a team, the Peacocks shot 51% from the field, while holding the Wildcards to 43%.

This game may have been an upset, but I would not call it a fluke. St. Peter’s had a great defensive gameplan, and they executed on offense. Sometimes it’s just that simple. The Peacocks had no fear - which became pretty evident if you heard their coach, Shaheen Holloway, speak after the game - and they refused to back down, even when they trailed by eight with less than four minutes to go. There have been, and will continue to be, great games, but this was my favorite from the opening two rounds.

Gene’s Take: UNC over Baylor

Like Josh, I totally agree that this finally feels like the full return of March Madness after we were robbed of the total package the last two seasons — once losing the tournament in its entirety and once in a lifeless arena without fans in attendance. Also like Josh, the NCAA Tournament regularly takes a bunch of money from my pocket, and this year has been no different as the 2022 edition of college basketball’s random number generator of a postseason has been chock full of upsets and highly-contested games. Even with that being said, it has been a ton of fun and almost every single game has had at least a little bit of intrigue if not resulting in a certified banger.

It's tough to pick just one game so far, as so many have been a pleasure to watch. Close games don’t always mean that the best basketball is being played by any stretch, but the calamity of it all is what makes this whole experience so enjoyable. At the end of the day these are just college kids playing ball, and so almost nothing is out of the realm of possibilities. Dudes pulling up from the logo? Sure, why not! A guy dribbles it off his own foot out of bounds in a pivotal spot? Classic! Losing an entire parlay by one point because of a meaningless foul at the end of a 20-point game? This definitely didn’t happen to me, and it definitely didn’t happen more than once!!

All that being said, this NCAA Tournament has been a blast, and it’s tough to choose just one game out of the many fantastic hours of action I watched over the past four-plus days. The play-in game between Rutgers and Notre Dame that went to overtime was a thrilling precursor to what was to come. Since then, we’ve seen a whopping seven double-digit seeds advance past the first round, and four of them are still alive as we embark on the Sweet 16. St. Peters has obviously been the darling of this tournament as the lowest remaining seed, and Michigan has made an impressive run despite not really even deserving to make the tournament in the first place — but I digress.

With Josh claiming the Peacocks, I will go elsewhere. For my favorite game thus far, I will go with the first No. 1 seed to fall in this year’s bracket: No. 8 UNC over No. 1 Baylor.

Coming into the tourney we kinda knew Baylor was the most upset-able No. 1 seed. Gonzaga, Kansas and Arizona are all powerhouse basketball teams, and while the Bears are certainly impressive in their own right, they aren’t quite on the same level as those other three. UNC, on the other hand, had a largely lackluster season by their own standards. Their regular season was nothing to be wooed by, other than the obvious win over Duke in the finale to ruin the final home game for Coach K — truly a win for all of America. I was not impressed with the Tar Heels in the few games I'd seen them play this year, so I chose them to lose to Marquette in the first round in the 8 vs. 9 game. I was wrong.

I thought for sure their run would end against Baylor, but it was not to be. It looked like this game was going to be a runaway — and not for the favorite. UNC was up by as many as 25 points in the second half, but everything changed after a questionable ejection of Tar Heel sharpshooter Brady Manek. From there, the Bears completely took over, and by the time of final buzzer sounded in regulation, things were all knotted up at 80-80 as we headed to overtime. The favorite usually dominates in overtime, and after the massive blown lead by UNC it felt like nothing was in their favor, especially with Manek and Caleb Love both out of the game. However, they persevered, and a 13-6 extra period by the Tar Heels resulted in a 93-86 upset to send Hubert Davis’ team to the Sweet Sixteen.

R.J. Davis put up a career-high 30 points, including five makes from beyond the arc. The sophomore guard averaged 13.5 points per game during the season, but he turned it up several notches when his team needed it the most. Performances like that are what make March special, and it’s one of the reason’s why this game was so fun to watch. Let’s hope the rest of the tournament delivers as much excitement as the opening weekend!