Big East Goes Five For Five Friday

Kansas and Michigan State were the latest teams to meet the one-and-out treatment in upsetting fashion as NCAA Tournament play continued Friday night. And Connecticut needed a late spurt to avoid what would have been the biggest upset of them all.

The upsets continued (welcome aboard No. 13 seed Bradley and No. 11 seed George Mason; adios, No. 4 Kansas and No. 6 Michigan State) and the Big East Conference members made it 5-for-5 Friday evening.

 

And, while the Atlantic Coast Conference reps swept the remainder of their first-round games, Connecticut and North Carolina barely survived the upset bug that fully infected the Jayhawks and Spartans Friday evening after having made a victim of another 3 seed (Iowa) earlier in the day.

 

So went, in part, the evening portion of Day II of the NCAA Tournament.

 

There will be post-tournament exit gnashing of teeth in Lawrence, Kansas, for the second spring in a row after Kansas' trek to the Final Four – projected by more than just a few national pundits – was brought to an abrupt halt by the Bradley Braves (77-73).

 

And Michigan State (22-12) wrapped up the "Most Disappointing Team of the Season" hardware after its 75-65 loss to George Mason, which was its 10th defeat over its final 20 games.

 

The Spartans returned four starters from a Final Four team but opened the season with a loss at the University of Hawaii. Tthat was a pretty good clue right there that something was wrong.

 

Connecticut (72-59 over Albany) and Pittsburgh (79-64 over Kent State) won their evening games to give the Big East Conference a 5-0 record on the day.

 

The Huskies' victory was anything but of the yawner variety, however, as Jim Calhoun's team found itself trailing by 12 points with a little more than 11 minutes to play.

 

Visions of writing about one of the sport's greatest upsets – 16 seeds were 0-87 vs. 1 seeds coming into that game – danced in reporters' heads before Marcus Williams sparked a 34-9 run the rest of the way to propel the Huskies into a second-round game with Kentucky Sunday in Philadelphia.

 

The Huskies might yet end up as national champions on April 3 but they're certainly not following a dull path along the way.

 

Pittsburgh was a lot more definitive during its victory in Auburn Hills to earn a Sunday game against Bradley, the at-large selection from the Missouri Valley Conference.

 

And the Braves gave an even more impressive illustration than did another at-large team from its conference (Wichita State, during its 86-66 win over Seton Hall Thursday) as to why the MVC was among the strongest conferences in the country this season and more than worthy of its four spots in the tournament field.

 

North Carolina (which will play George Mason Sunday in Dayton) found itself tied with Murray State with a little less than a minute to play.

 

But, after a timeout by Roy Williams, the Tar Heels went exactly where you would expect they'd go and freshman center Tyler Hansbrough delivered with the go-ahead jump hook from the right side with 43 seconds remaining in what ended as a 69-65 victory for the Tar Heels.

 

Cameron Bennerman hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with less than a minute to play as North Carolina State, which came into the tournament on a four-game losing streak, eventually knocked off 7 seed Cal, 58-52, in Dallas.

 

Sunday, Herb Sendek's team will take on the Atlanta region's 2 seed, Texas. And, if the Longhorns' less-than-overwhelming performance in edging Ivy League champion Penn, 60-52, is a barometer, the Wolfpack have a reasonable opportunity of returning to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

 

On a night when Kentucky was able to hit just 31 percent from the field, it didn't take long to declare who the key player was for the Wildcats' during their 69-64 victory over UAB in Philadelphia.

 

Forward Bobby Perry scored 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Tubby Smith's team.

 

And the Wildcats, if they are going to upset what will no doubt be a much more motivated Connecticut club Sunday, will need several performances like that in order to earn a trip to Washington, D.C., for regional play next week.

 

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com


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