NCAA Tourney Saturday Analysis

The upsets continued on Saturday with Wake Forest, Boston College, Gonzaga and Oklahoma bowing out.

And then there were 24 . . .

And Wake Forest, Boston College, Gonzaga and Oklahoma weren't among them.

The Demon Deacons, Eagles, Bulldogs and Sooners bid bitter farewells via second-round upset losses Saturday.

But that also means that West Virginia and Wisconsin-Milwaukee – yes, you are reading correctly – as well as Texas Tech and Utah, will be among the 16 teams still practicing this week for third-round games Thursday or Friday night.

Not at all surprisingly, a couple of No. 1 seeds (Washington and Illinois), a two seed (Kentucky) and a three seed (Arizona) also advanced Saturday to Week II of the NCAA tournament.

But can some of the power elite in action Sunday, including top seeds Duke and North Carolina, keep from being part of the rash of stunners that hit the tourney Friday night and continued into Saturday?

For the sake of the health of a lot of office pool bracket sheets, one would hope so.

Gosh knows that sheets were figuratively shredded for many folks when a 14th seed (Bucknell) and a 13th (Vermont) put the boot to the figurative bottoms of Kansas and Syracuse in first-round games Friday.

Three of the four higher seeded teams that lost Saturday shared at least one thing in common: they all saw double-figure point advantages dissipate against opponents that either appeared to play a lot harder at times (Wisconsin-Milwaukee and West Virginia come to mind), executed better down the stretch (Texas Tech) or simply had a player who was too difficult to cope with (Utah, in the person of Andrew Bogut).

OK, let's sort out Saturday's action, beginning with the higher seeds that won:

Washington overwhelmed Pacific (97-79) in Boise with its man-to-man pressure defense, and drive-it-down-your-throats style of transition offense.

The Huskies are certainly the most dangerous open-court offensive team still alive in the tournament (along with Illinois and North Carolina). And only the Tar Heels have as many ``finishers'' at the end of fast-breaks as does Coach Lorenzo Romar's team.

Arizona needed a solid second half, at both ends of the floor, to beat a Utah State team that packed in its defense and was methodical on offense Thursday.

And, after a few jittery moments early Saturday, the Wildcats toyed with an Alabama-Birmingham team that tried repeatedly to press and trap them, full court, and continually fired up erratic jump shots.

With Salim Stoudamire knocking in five three-pointers, Arizona rolled in the most one-sided game of the day. But the defense he and his teammates will face Thursday night in Chicago, against either Oklahoma State or Southern Illinois, will be a whole more difficult to score against than was the one they faced Saturday from the Blazers.

Illinois led by as many as 20 points in the second half in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis before cruising to a 71-59 win over Nevada.

As for those who consider the Illini frontcourt personnel to be a collective Achilles hill of sorts, I'd say this: James Augustine and Jack Ingram sure looked national championship-good to me Saturday.

Kentucky, No. 2 in the Austin region (the same one that Syracuse was bounced out of Friday night in Worcester, Mass.), was up 11-0 before Cincinnati realized the game at started in the RCA Dome.

The Bearcats play with their usual brand of relentlessness and determination but the difference was the much better shot selection and offensive execution that the Wildcats were armed with and put to good use in a 69-60 decision.

The win earned Tubby Smith's team a Friday night Sweet 16 date with Utah, which jumped Oklahoma (14-2) at the start and then held off ever mini-rally the Sooners mounted to prevail, 67-58, and advance to the second week of the tournament for the first time since the Utes lost to Kentucky seven years in ago in the national title game in San Antonio.

For the most part, every one of sophomore center Andrew Bogut's teammates played well, offensively and defensively, which was going to have to be the case if Utah was going to hang close with Oklahoma, much less beat the Sooners.

Based on adjustments he's made offensively (according to the ways the opposition is attempting to defend against Bogut), and the defense his team has played while knocking off UTEP (Thursday) and Big 12 Conference regular-season co-champion Oklahoma, one could suggest that Ray Giacoletti is doing as fine a job as any coach in the tournament.

Of course the same could be said about Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl, whose team collected its second consecutive major upset Saturday in tripping up No. 4 seed Boston College, 85-78.

The Eagles – like Kentucky – began things with an 11-0 advantage before the Panthers fought back with their full-court pressure defense, quick-hitting offense and an ``I don't care how many freakin' floor burns it costs me, I'm diving on that loose ball before you do''-style.

Would you think there are a few more athletic directors around the country now aware of Pearl than there were, say, Wednesday night?

Want to get a pretty good clue as to why Bob Knight is considered one of three or four – conservatively – greatest coaches in the sports history? Check out a replay of his Texas Tech club's 71-69 victory over Gonzaga Saturday morning in a game in which the Red Raiders trailed Gonzaga by 13 points early in the second half.

Knight's team got a quality shot on nearly every possession in the second half against the Bulldogs' zone defense. And, especially after falling behind by 13 points, the Red Raiders' man to man defense all but negated what was a big advantage in post play in the first half. That defense will get another test in Albuquerque Thursday night against a West Virginia team that scored 84 points in the second half, including two five-overtime periods, in its exhausting (even to watch) 111-105 win over Wake Forest in Cleveland during that final game played Saturday.

The Demon Deacons' Achilles heel a year ago, when they were beaten by Saint Joseph's in the Sweet 16, was defense. And, ultimately, it was what blocked Wake Forest's path to St. Louis in a region in which, led by All-America guard Chris Paul, it had better personnel than anyone else.

And what of Paul, who will probably be a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award? Does he return for a junior season or declare for the NBA draft and almost certainly be no worse than the No. 3 overall selection in June?

Needless to say, his decision will impact the entire landscape of college basketball, not just that of Wake Forest and the Atlantic Coast Conference.



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.

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