Frank: Sunday Hoops Analysis

Last year's national champs, Connecticut, bite the dust, while Marvin Williams and North Carolina look like the tourney's most imposing team.

It was a four-day stretch that saw half of the top 16 seeds fall by the wayside, including the 2004 (Connecticut) and 2003 (Syracuse) national champions.

But, although things got a bit dicey for one of them Sunday evening in Charlotte, the four No. 1 seeds will be finding their way to Albuquerque, Austin, Chicago and Syracuse, respectively, for NCAA tournament regional semifinals later this week.

Don't take that to mean that the upset bug that struck hard and often over the first three days of the tournament didn't find another victim during second-round games on Sunday.

And this time it was last year's titlists, the Connecticut Huskies, who were infected.

One quick question before we dive into the details: Can someone please explain to me again why speculation about Herb Sendek's job security always seems to run hot and heavy in ACC country?

OK, one more: Has anyone done a better job of coaching in the tournament than Sendek has while leading North Carolina State Wolfpack to what he and his players are hoping will be an extended weekend in Syracuse?

Two days after his team came from 14 points down in the first half to beat Charlotte by 12 points in the first round in Worcester, Mass., Sendek and his senior star Julius Hodge pushed all of the right buttons as NCSU edged the Syracuse region's No. 2 seed, Connecticut, 65-62.

The Wolfpack dictated the offensive pace of the proceedings and, whenever the team needed a hoop, worked a jump shooter opener or ran Hodge to the low post – as on his winning layup.

Defensively, Sendek forced Connecticut – more specifically, sophomore point guard Marcus Williams – to try to beat the Wolfpack from the perimeter instead of allowing the Huskies to pipe the ball inside to big men Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva.

Memo to any and all Sendek bashers who "support" the NC State program: Keep quiet from here on out and just be pleased that he hasn't chucked it all and headed elsewhere. The guy can coach – big time.

How about a North Carolina-NC State final in Syracuse next Sunday?

Well, Villanova and Wisconsin present a couple of obstacles.

The Wildcats were miserable during the second half Friday, but had enough of a halftime cushion (23 points) to hold on and beat New Mexico 55-47. For the most part they dominated Florida throughout Sunday to win 76-65 in Nashville and earn a Friday night regional semifinal with top seed North Carolina.

Don't expect Jay Wright's Villanova team to be anything approaching passive against the Tar Heels. The Wildcats are as aggressive, in transition and off the dribble, as any team still in the tournament that doesn't reside in Seattle.

Bucknell, less than 48 hours after stunning Kansas in Oklahoma City, seemed well within striking distance of another upset Sunday before Wisconsin, getting a combined 55 of their points from Mike Wilkinson, Zach Morley and Alando Tucker, put the Bison on the now-extinct list of NCAA tournament squads.

Whereas the Villanova-UNC game figures to be played at a fast and often furious offensive pace, the Badgers and Wolfpack will go at things in a more methodical but no less intriguing fashion.

After disposing of Oakland University by 28 points Friday afternoon and a much more competitive opponent in Iowa State by just about that margin (27) Sunday, the Tar Heels should be a consensus as the first four days' most impressive – or, at least, overwhelming – tournament team.

And it's time to pose this question: When is the last time a college team has had a sixth man as marvelously gifted as UNC's 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams, who scored and grabbed a combined 40 points and 23 rebounds Friday and Sunday?

In Oklahoma City, not at all surprisingly, Oklahoma State set the stage for a Thursday night showdown with Arizona in Chicago by beating a game Southern Illinois team, 85-77.

This is how good the Cowboys are: They're in the Sweet 16 although their All-Big 12 and All-America forward Joey Graham played just a total of 40 minutes and scored only 15 points in the two games in Oklahoma City.

What senior center Ivan McFarlin did Sunday (31 points to go with six rebounds and three steals) is called "picking up the slack".

A showdown between the 4th (Louisville) and 5th (Georgia Tech) seeds in Nashville presented the tantalizing possibility of the best matchup of the first two rounds. Instead, it turned into "All Cardinals, all day" almost from Jump Street as Louisville cruised in nearly as dominating a fashion as was employed by North Carolina 76-54.

A lot of folks in Louisville – Coach Rick Pitino included – were startled and then angered when the Cardinals were given a No. 4 seed on March 13. They'll have a perfect venue to vent that displeasure when they take on the region's No. 1 seed, Washington, in Albuquerque on Thursday night.

In Worcester, Michigan State – at about the same time that another Big Ten team, Wisconsin, was doing the same thing to Bucknell in Oklahoma City – closed the pages on one Cinderella story by toppling Vermont, 72-61.

Guess what: We've got ourselves a rematch of that Nov. 30 ACC-Big Ten Challenge game between the Spartans and Duke, won by the Blue Devils 89-81.

And the Sweet 16 game between the two will be played in a facility (the Frank Erwin Center in Austin) Friday that is just a tad more "neutral" than where the first game was played ... Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke's game against Mississippi State Sunday in Charlotte was every bit as competitive – and then some – as had been anticipated after the Bulldogs hammered a decent Stanford team by 23 points Friday night.

Here's a thought: When you're playing for a program with as high a profile as possessed by Duke, is it really possible to be "underrated"?

I'd volunteer "Yes, it is!" and offer up senior guard Daniel Ewing (22 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals Sunday ) as Exhibit A.

If Ewing only made about a dozen gritty/clutch plays instead of the 15 or so he turned in against Mississippi State, I'd be making mention of a "MSU vs. MSU" game in Austin Friday night.



Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com.

Blue Devil Digest Top Stories