A quick review of first- and second-round NCAA tournament action
before diving headlong into Sweet 16 observations later this week . . .
THE SHOCKER: Bucknell over Kansas gets the nod, with the Vermont (over Syracuse), North Carolina State (over Connecticut) and West Virginia (over Wake Forest) upsets also getting strong consideration. The Jayhawks had one of the 10 best players (Wayne Simien) in their lineup, as well as three other seniors who had played in 15 NCAA tournament games before this season. Thats one that is going to resonate in Lawrence for a while.
TOASTS OF ROUNDS 1-2, TEAM-WISE: North Carolina was easily the most overwhelming
squad while pummeling Oakland University and Iowa
State in Charlotte. But, in reality, nothing short of that was expected of the Tar
Heels in the first weekend.
So were giving the team honors to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which knocked off teams (Alabama and Boston College) which spent most of the season ranked among the Top 15 or in the country, and West Virginia, which pulled out a nail-biter against Creighton on Thursday and then overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to beat Wake Forest picked by many to win the national title coming into this season in double overtime Saturday night.
Texas Tech, North Carolina State and Utah are honorable mention winners.
THE HEY, WHAT HAPPENED? TAGS: In no particular order: Alabama, LSU, Florida, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Connecticut.
Alabama and LSU got rocked on their heels almost immediately by the pressing defense and quick-tempo offense of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Alabama-Birmingham, respectively, and never really recovered. Guys, you should have seen it coming. Florida, which dominated the SEC tournament, lost all of a 20-point lead before beating Ohio in Round 1 then was beaten by 11 points by Villanova.
Syracuse, fresh off a Big East Conference tournament championship the week before, seemed to play without much energy or emotional involvement during its loss to Vermont. And who could have ever imagined Hakim Warrick (10 turnovers) and Gerry McNamara (4 of 18 shooting) would have both played so poorly on the same night?
Wake Forest trailed by three points at intermission before beating Chattanooga in its first game then, after holding a 13-point advantage at halftime, surrendered 84 second-half points (including 10 minutes of overtime) to get bounced by West Virginia.
As for Connecticut, we should have figured something was amiss when the Huskies struggled to beat Central Florida (77-71) on Friday. On Sunday North Carolina State turned things into a game where every possession was critical and Julius Hodge had the ball in his hands just one too many times for Connecticuts well being, hitting the winning bucket.
SENIOR STANDS: Maybe it was the whole ``I dont want this to be the last game I play syndrome but you could build a pretty sturdy first- and second-round all-tournament team with seniors alone. Naturally, Julius Hodge (North Carolina State) is the honorary captain and would be joined by Ronald Ross (Texas Tech), Salim Stoudamire (Arizona), Francisco Garcia (Louisville), Mike Wilkinson (Wisconsin), Daniel Ewing (Duke), Chuck Hayes (Kentucky) and Mark Jackson (Utah).
WELCOME TO THE SPOTLIGHT: The national television exposure served to introduce some players, maybe just names before the tournament, to the majority of college hoops followers. Among the guys who made the most of exposure to the spotlight were Bobby Jones (Washington), Ed McCants (Milwaukee-Wisconsin), Mike Gansey and Tyrone Sally (West Virginia), Zach Morley (Wisconsin), Cameron Bennerman (North Carolina State) and Justin Hawkins (Utah).
MOST ENJOYABLE VIEWING PLEASURE: For one game in that four-day stretch, its got to be West Virginia's 111-105 double-overtime victory over Wake Forest Saturday night in Cleveland. An entire highlight DVD could be made up strictly of all the big shots that were hit in that one. And the game also featured what almost (had the Demon Deacons won the game) could have been the defensive play of the entire tournament: A spectacular blocked shot by Wake Forest center Eric Williams on a layup attempt that would have won the game for the Mountaineers at the end of the first overtime.
Lets put it this way: If the game had been played in a Final Four, youd hear and see a lot of people calling it one of the great tournament games of all time.
THE CONFERENCE THAT SOUNDED A ROAR: The Big Ten got more than its share of bashing throughout the season and Iowa and Minnesota did go out in the first round of the tournament without so much as a peep. But the conferences Big Three of Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin are still playing after winning their six games by an average margin of 9.5 points. Only the ACC (Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State) still has as many teams still standing.
THE CONFERENCES THAT SOUNDED YAWNS: Any arguments that the Big East and Southeastern conferences were the equal of the ACC this season took major hits in Rounds 1 and 2. Syracuse (a 4th seed) didnt make it out of the first round while Connecticut (a 3rd) and Boston College (a 4th) were eliminated in the second round. Pittsburgh, ranked in the Top 10 earlier in the season, was a 9th seed and was handled by a Big West school (Pacific) in the first round. Villanova and West Virginia are carrying the Big East colors proudly, though, of course.
Thats still a better showing than that of the SEC, which has just one team (Kentucky) among the Sweet 16 as LSU and Alabama were thumped in the first round, and Florida and Mississippi State went out in Round 2. The Bulldogs deserve thumbs up, though, for taking Duke down to the wire in Charlotte Sunday.
THE MOST ENTERTAINING PLAYERS: And were limiting this group to guys who will still be playing Thursday or Friday: Nate Robinson (Washington), Marvin Williams (North Carolina), Andrew Bogut (Utah), Rajon Rondo (Kentucky), Shannon Brown (Michigan State), Shelden Williams (Duke) and Tyrone Sally (West Virginia).