NCAA Tourney Early Friday Analysis

The North Carolina State Wolfpack led a day of deep comebacks by setting up a Sunday showdown with UConn. Frank Burlison breaks down those teams, plus all others who played early Friday games.

Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago that the NCAA tournament future of the North Carolina State Wolfpack was about as bleak as the future of the VCR?

Well, guess who has a second-round tournament game with defending champion Connecticut on tap for Sunday afternoon in Worcester, Mass.?

During a Friday afternoon/early evening of first-round games that included some remarkable come-from-behind performances, Herb Sendek's NC State club had the only one that culminated in a victory.

The Wolfpack demonstrated remarkable poise and resolve in chipping away at three 14-point deficits in the first half (engineered via the long-range bombing of Brendan Plavich, who nailed five threes).

Cameron Bennerman's defense in the second half (when Plavich didn't connect on shot) was a major element in finalizing the turn-around after intermission.

But the bulk of the credit has to go to Sendek and Julius Hodge.

So someone please explain to me again while Sendek is always said to be on some kind of "hot seat" in Raleigh? The guy is a heck of a coach, as he demonstrated in punching all of the right buttons in directing his team's comeback.

And what can be said about the 6-foot-7 Hodge's performance (19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) Friday? One word – marvelous – will do the trick pretty well.

The guy has gone from being the ACC Player of the Year as a junior to one of the more under-appreciated players in the country as a senior. Such is life, I suppose.

The Wolfpack's Sunday opponent, UConn, led Central Florida by 16 points at intermission and by 19 with about 14 minutes to play. But then the Huskies got a bit careless and seemed to become almost disinterested before holding to win, 77-71.

It must have been a Huskies-kind-of-deal. Remember, the Washington version of the canines built a mega-lead against Montana Thursday in Boise before settling for exchanging hoop for hoop down the stretch and winning by 11 points.

That kind of approach will get a team bounced out of the tournament quicker than you can say "hey, guys, you better play hard and focused for 40 minutes".

Unlike Washington and Illinois Thursday, and Connecticut and Oklahoma State (a No. 2 seed that had to grit out a 63-50 victory over Southeastern Louisiana Friday afternoon in Oklahoma City), North Carolina gave us one of those retro shellackings we used to expect out of No. 1 or 2 seeds in first-round games.

The Tar Heels' 96-68 treatment of 13-win Oakland University in Charlotte was as expected of a team that is the consensus choice to win the national championship.

We should count on Raymond Felton & Co. doing a better job of handling the presses and traps of Iowa State Sunday than did the Minnesota Gophers earlier Friday in Charlotte during their 64-53 loss to the Cyclones.

A Collapse for the Ages was avoided by Florida when it was able to hold off Ohio, 67-62, in Nashville.

The Gators lost all of a 20-point advantage before Anthony Roberson rebounded David Lee's air ball with 42 seconds to go and followed it in while being fouled. It would have been a gruesome spring, summer and fall for Coach Billy Donovan and his players in Gainesville trying to explain away that loss. v Later in Nashville, the New Mexico Lobos seemed poised – if that's the right word – to lay the biggest one-game egg in the entire tournament when the first half of its game with Villanova ended with the team from the Big East Conference leading, 34-11.

That's right: 34-11.

Needless the say, the NCAA selection committee seemed on the verge of total vindication for slapping the Lobos with a No. 12 seed after Ritchie McKay's team won its way into the tournament field Saturday night in Denver with a Mountain West Conference tourney title victory over Utah.

The Lobos rescued their dignity – if not another couple of days in the Land of the Grand Ole Opry – by cutting their deficit to 52-47, with the ball, with 29 seconds to go before eventually falling, 55-47.

Here's the call for the top defensive struggle on tap for Sunday: Oklahoma State vs. Southern Illinois Sunday in Oklahoma City.

The Salukis lost all of their 15-point lead against Saint Mary's Friday before going ahead to stay on six consecutive points by Stetson Hairston after the Gaels of the West Coast Conference had tied the score at 47 with 6:33 to go.

Don't expect to hear many voices exalting Coach Chris Lowery's Carbondale-based team Sunday, since the Oklahoma State campus (in Stillwater) is located just 65 miles away from Oklahoma City.

But don't anticipate the Salukis melting in a sea of Cowboy Orange, either. Those guys are well-coached, focused and determined. All in all, those are three pretty good NCAA tournament ingredients to possess.

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

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