OKLAHOMA CITY — It was like the paint that covered UNLV president Neal Smatresk’s face at this first-round NCAA Tournament game Thursday. All bright and red in the beginning. All faded and worn in the end.
For a second, forget about the 8-9 line of the Midwest bracket in the NCAA Tournament. Forget about Northern Iowa’s halfcourt defense, its balanced offense, a terrific 7-foot center named Jordan Eglseder. Forget about Kansas lurking Saturday.
What is the difference? Five percent more effort? Ten? An extra arm length? Two?
I’m not sure Brice Massamba ever is going to be that guy. The one who rules a basketball key. The one whose presence is so strong, he dwarfs even a reasonably large defender holding on from behind. The one so athletic, he glides more than rumbles down a court, so nimble, he rises more than jumps.
It led to a four-game winning streak to end the regular season and predictions that an NCAA Tournament berth was guaranteed before this Mountain West Conference Tournament commenced.