A quick look back at the first four days of the NCAA Tournament, and other hoops happenings, as the Sweet 16 games creep up on us . . .
*Courtesy the DirecTV "Mega March Madness" package – and incredible dexterity with my remote – here are my choices for each regions first- and second-round site's Most Valuable Player:
Salt Lake City – Craig Smith (Boston College). He nailed two free throws with four seconds to go to put the game into a second overtime, and totaled 25 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Eagles' 88-76 victory over Pacific in the first round. Two days later he had 22 points, 16 rebounds and four assists as his team cruised past Montana, 69-56, to earn a spot in the Minneapolis semifinals.
San Diego – Brandon Roy (Washington). The Pac 10 Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-America had 49 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals as the Huskies beat Utah State and Illinois to advance to their second consecutive Sweet 16 (in the Washington, D.C., region).
Dallas – P.J. Tucker (Texas). In the opening-round, 60-52 win over Penn, the Big 12 Player of the Year had 17 points, 12 rebounds and two steals. Against North Carolina State, the numbers were 17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. The Longhorns face West Virginia in Atlanta Thursday night.
Runner-up: Andre Allen (Memphis).
Auburn Hills – Patrick O'Bryant (Bradley). The 7-foot sophomore had relatively modest numbers (eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal) in the Braves' opening-round, 77-73 upset of Big 12 Conference Tournament champion Kansas. But the numbers, and the performance, were spectacular Sunday afternoon. He had 28 points, seven rebounds and two steals to send the program to a Sweet 16 for the first time in 51 years with a 72-66 victory over Pittsburgh.
Runner-up: Mike Gansey (West Virginia).
Dayton – Roy Hibbert (Georgetown). One of the most improved players in the country, the 7-2 sophomore scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds during the Hoyas' 54-49 victory over Iowa on Friday. He was even better two days later against Big Ten Conference regular-season champion Ohio State with 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots in a 70-52 win.
Runner-up: Folarin Campbell (George Mason).
Greensboro – Shelden Williams (Duke). The Blue Devils' "other" All-America did against Southern and George Washington what he had done to opponents all season – he thumped them down low, collecting 43 points and 33 rebounds, and blocking 11 shots during 70-54 and 74-61 victories.
Runner-up: P.J. Couisnard (Wichita State).
Jacksonville – Joakim Noah (Florida). The 6-11 sophomore had 33 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists and nine blocked shots as the Gators chomped on South Alabama (76-50) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee (82-60) for the most lopsided set of victories in the first four days of the tournament.
Philadelphia – Marcus Williams (Connecticut). Without the marvelous play of the junior point guard, the best collection of players on any roster in the country wouldn't have a semifinal with Washington in Washington, D.C Friday night to prepare for. He had 21 points and eight assists as the Huskies came from 12 points down with about 11 minutes to play to beat Albany, 72-59. And he had 20 points and eight assists to help his team hold off Kentucky Sunday, 87-83. He had only five turnovers over the two games.
OTHER TOURNEY OBSERVATIONS:
*No non-Sweet 16 point guard (and very few, other than Marcus Williams, whose teams are still active) played any better in the first two rounds than did Texas A&M junior Acie Law against Syracuse and LSU.
With him at the helm, the Aggies should find their way in a lot of preseason Top 25s next fall.
*No senior in the tournament helped his NBA stock more with his performance than did 6-10 Christian Maraker of Pacific, who had 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds while hitting a 3-pointer that put the game into overtime, during his team's loss to Boston College Thursday.
*And a special "thanks" to Alabama sophomore point guard Ronald Steele, who made me look like I knew what I was doing when I made him a third-team Scout.com All-America.
He had 44 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists in his team's games with Marquette and UCLA and, depending on how things shake out this spring with regards to the NBA Draft, could be a preseason first-team All-America.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com