Early Thursday Analysis

There was only one literal upset during Thursday's early first-round NCAA games, but several upsetting results, according to Scout.com's Frank Burlison...

As far as seeding goes, there was only one "upset" – No. 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee carving No. 5 Alabama to ribbons, 83-73, in Cleveland – during the first eight NCAA tournament games played Thursday.

Don't tell that to the Pittsburgh or Iowa teams, though. Or the Texas-El Paso Miners, for that matter. They found things extremely upsetting.

In the Albuquerque region, in the first game played in Boise Thursday, an 8th seed, Pacific, faced 9th seed Pitt.Though the NCAA selection committee gave the UOP Tigers the better seed, the folks in Las Vegas who post the odds had the Panthers of the Big East as four-point favorites.

Yikes. Did the Tigers make those guys – and anyone else who picked Pitt to win (gulp!) – look bad or what while cruising, 79-71?

And maybe the Big West Conference, following UOP's dominance of the Panthers and Cal State Fullerton's overtime NIT win at Pacific 10 Conference member Oregon State Wednesday night, is a lot better in hoops these days than anyone nationally, or regionally, seems to want to give it credit for.

We'll find out more on that subject tonight when Utah State takes on Arizona in another game in Boise.

Iowa came into the RCA Dome in Indianapolis Thursday with a lot of momentum after a fast close in Big Ten play to get an at-large bid. And Cincinnati was smacked by South Florida to get bounced in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament last week. But the Bearcats' pressure defense had to make even the usually dour Bob Huggins smile following his team's 23-5 start and eventual 76-64 victory Thursday.

Some 76 miles separates Lexington and Cincinnati, but the Kentucky Wildcats and Bearcats will be eyeball to eyeball in a second-round game Saturday that should be dominated by defense and physical play.

In Tucson, UTEP made a remarkable comeback to deadlock Utah before the Utes, with The Clutch Shot of the morning/afternoon games coming via a jumper by Marc Jackson that barely rolled in and put his team ahead to stay. Utah won, 60-54.

The Utes will have to play a lot better Saturday to knock off Oklahoma (which overwhelmed Niagara, 84-67) – and that includes their All-America center and leading contender for the John R. Wooden Award, Andrew Bogut. He had 24 points, 11 rebounds and blocked four shots but missed six of 10 free throws.

Here's a cool storyline for a second-round game in Cleveland Saturday: Wisconsin-Milwaukee Coach Bruce Pearl will lead his team against his alma mater's club (Boston College, which toyed with Pennsylvania, 85-65, Thursday). Pearl was a manager at B.C. when Dr. Tom Davis was the program's head coach, and later followed Davis as an assistant at both Stanford and Iowa.

And what of the University of Washington Huskies, who – to the surprise of many – picked up the final No. 1 seed Sunday?

Well, they burst out of the blocks in Boise Thursday afternoon to the tune of a 19-3 lead. But once Montana calmed down and the Grizzlies got their wits about themselves they score relatively at will before losing, 88-77.

The Huskies are going to have to tighten up their defense several notches – and then some – Saturday against Pacific or they, as so many pundits believe, will be the first of the No. 1 seeds to pack up the uniforms for good this season.

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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