The sea has parted in the Midwest for the Kansas Jayhawks. The same can be said for the UCLA Bruins in the West. North Carolina looks dominant in not being tested in either of their two wins, while Memphis' free throw shooting nearly cost them a game they were in control. Only the East held form, Two #2 seeds are out, while two #10's, and a #12, are still around. Lets take a look at what happened during the first weekend of the greatest event in American Sports.
Oh, Carolina - Maybe no team in the entire field looked better in it's two wins than #1 North Carolina. They put up 113 against Mount St. Mary's and 108 in a 31 point blowout of Arkansas to get to the Sweet 16. The partisan crowd in Raleigh loved every minute of it. The Tar Heels claim they aren't happy or finished yet. Said SF Marcus Ginyard after the Arkansas game: "We've got another two-game tournament to play next weekend and that's what we're focused on right now. At this point, this game does not mean anything to us anymore. This is just not where this team wants to end up."
The Half-court Clinic - Mad props go out to Tony Bennett's Washington State Cougars. Most experts were picking Notre Dame to knock them off in the second round, but Wazzu literally took the Irish apart on both ends of the floor. Their slow down, halfcourt offensive style ran their sets to perfection, thanks to PG Taylor Rochestie. Their defense was even better. The double-teaming of ND's Luke Harangody worked so well, the Big East Player of the year was 3-17 from the floor. He is a Power Forward. The Cougars slow down style could really give UNC fits in the Sweet 16. It should be a great contrast to watch.
Pitino Does it Again - If North Carolina was the most impressive team in the first weekend, Louisville has to be a close second. After easily dispatching Boise State in round one, the Cardinals throttled a very good Oklahoma team by 30. They did it with balance. Seven players scored at least seven points, led by Earl Clark's 14. They shot 59% and held OU to 31%. Said Coach Rick Pitino "Offensively and defensively, we did a beautiful job. You really can't find a weakness in the way the guys played."
Teetering Tennessee? - Like the old saying goes, survive and advance. That is exactly what Tennessee did this weekend. Their opener with American was way closer than they would have liked. This was a two point game with 5:45 left, before the Vols pulled away. Sunday they were tested again by a solid Butler team. Give Bruce Pearl's kids credit, they surrendered the lead for the first time in the entire game with just over one minute left in OT, and then finished the game on an 8-3 run to close out the Bulldogs. Their lack of a true point guard was exposed by Butler, as they forced 20 turnovers. The way they played and the way Louisville played, you'd have to say the Cardinals are the favorite in their Sweet 16 matchup.
Two Down, Four To Go - The Kansas Jayhawks were very business-like in their two wins over Portland State and UNLV. They did it with offense against Portland State, and defense against the Runnin' Rebels, holding them to 26% shooting. Bill Self showed a lot of the four guard offense against the smaller UNLV team and it worked. All four KU guards, Mario Chalmers (17), Russell Robinson (13), Brandon Rush (12), and Sherron Collins (10) were in double figures. The draw looks good for KU as well. They get upstart #12 Villanova Friday, and the bottom half of the draw no longer has #2 Georgetown.
The Big East's Beast? - Who knew that the one Big East team left in the Midwest would be Villanova? Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher have been magnificent since the second half of the Clemson game and Jay Wright has his team back in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. Reynolds and Fisher combined for 45 points in the second round W of Siena. More impressive was the way they handled the Clemson press Friday night. The Wildcats were down 36-18 in the first half and looked bad. After blitzing the Tigers by 18 in the second half, Wright said "It's incredible what happened here today."
Just Win, Baby - Nobody talks about them, nobody gives them any chance, yet here they are again in the Sweet 16. You want to know why we said Wisconsin's Bo Ryan is the most underrated coach in America? Take a look at what he has done this year. The Badgers sit at 31-4 and handled the great Michael Beasley and Kansas State with ease 72-55 on their way to Detroit. Trevon Hughes' 25 set the pace for Wisconsin. If they can hit their threes (9-22) and defend the way they did against K-State (39%, 0-13 from deep), they will be really tough to beat.
Everyone's Cinderella - The darlings of the tournament are the Davidson Wildcats and the star of the tournament is clearly Stephen Curry. Curry went off for 40 in the win over Gonzaga, but was held to just five in the first half as Georgetown shut him down and led by as many as 17 early in the second half. Then Curry woke up and Bob McKillop outcoached John Thompson III. Curry scored 25 after the break, including one back-breaking three after another. Davidson fed off of the crowd who jumped on their backs and pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament. "I'm numb right now," said McKillop. Curry has played three NCAA Tournament games in his career. he has scored 30, 40, and 30. Not bad for a Sophomore who was overlooked by all of the big schools. They took down mighty Georgetown, the Big East Champ, why can't they do it again to Wisconsin? The Hoyas loss also signaled the end of the careers of Jonathan Wallace and Roy Hibbert, perhaps the most overrated player in the country.
Will The Freebees Do Them In? - Memphis Coach John Calipari can tell us all he wants that his team will make their free throws when it counts, but is that really going to happen? Sunday, they had the game well in hand in the end against Mississippi State, before a barrage of threes and missed free throws gave the Bulldogs a chance to tie it with a last second three, which was missed by Jamont Gordon. For the game, the shot 15-32, 46%. They only won by three. You tell is if that doesn't make a difference. It doesn't matter to Calipari, who said after the game "I love the frame of mind we are in. We may not be the best team. We may be one of them, we not be anywhere near it, but I like the mental attitude." If they can get past Michigan State, they will be in for a tough matchup with either Stanford's post players or Texas's shooters and the home crowd in Houston.
Izzo's the Master - You have got to give props to coach Tom Izzo. With his team underachieving all year long, he finds a way to turn things around and get them to the Sweet 16. PG Kalin Lucas was spectacular in both games, and is the shot in the arm the Spartans need. He was blowing by Pitt's Levance Fields all game long in the second rounf win over the Panthers. Drew Neitzel was on in the second half as well, nailing five threes and leading the way with 21. Expect MSU to give Memphis a tough game Friday night.
Feed The Beast - This is the year of the big man. The three best are all still playing. UNC's Tyler Hansbrough and UCLA's Kevin Love get all of the press, but is Brook Lopez the best of the three? Everyone knows he is going to get the ball, and he still can't be stopped. With his team needed him badly while trailing to Marquette in the second half, Lopez went nuts, scoring 28 points in the last 25 minutes, including the game winner with 1.2 seconds left. Take Lopez off this team and they'd be lucky to be .500. Give credit to his brother Robin, who played his best game of the season, with 18 and nine boards. PG Mitch Johnson played 44 of the 45 minutes and dished out 16 assists. These three saved Coach Trent Johnson from serious embarrasment as he was ejected in the first half for receiving two technicals. After the game, Johnson had no problem falling on the sword: "The bottom line was, the responsibility was on me, and I was out of line. Just leave it at that if you would, please."
Houston, Here We Come - The Texas Longhorns escaped against Miami after almost gagging away a 17 point second half lead. The good news is that now they head to Houston, where you can expect a partisan Burnt Orange crowd. that should help them big time. Their matchup with Stanford is the marquee game of the Sweet 16. Its guards vs. the bigs, and both teams are Final Four caliber. Expect to see a lot of zone to try and limit Brook Lopez's touches in the post. The Horns will do it from deep, like they did against Miami to the tune of 13-26. All five starters hit a three as well. Will Texas run out of gas? Their bench played just 21 minutes combined and scored two points.
Thank You, Pod System - Anyone who thinks the pod system doesn't give an advantage to certain teams should have watched the UCLA/Texas A&M game in Anaheim. They might as well have played in Pauley Pavilion. With A&M in the lead most of the second half, the crowd, and Kevin Love, willed the Bruins to a 51-49 win, a game they probably stole. Love was unbelievable. His two fall away jumpers in the last two minutes were unstoppable. Darren Collison, not to be outdown, went to the hole and hit the game winning runner with five seconds left. The question remains though, can UCLA win it all playing essentially no offense and being a two man team? Love and Collison scored 40 of the Bruins 51 points. Russell Westbrook was the next high man with 5. Like Texas, UCLA is relying heavily on its starters. Their bench played 20 minutes combined and scored four points. They have a walk to the regional final as Western Kentucky awaits.
The Belt Way - For the first time in 15 years, the Sun Belt's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are headed to the Sweet 16. The almost didn't get out of the first round. Their game with Drake was probably the best first round game as Drake fought all the way back from a 16 point second half lead to force OT, but Ty Rogers hit a buzzer-beating three to win it 101-99. PG Tyrone Brazelton was the man against Drake with 33, then star SG Courtney Lee took over the reigns in the win over San Diego. He had 29 including 4-5 from deep. This has been a nice story, but its all going to come to an end against UCLA.
The Hardest Draw Toughens Up The Musketeers - You tell us, if the committee got this right: In the first round, Xavier was dealt Georgia as their #14 seed. This is a Georgia team that plays in the SEC and is used to battling against top talent. Meanwhile, fellow #3 seed Stanford got the Ivy League Champ Cornell who was out of the game by the first eight minutes. They gutted out the win over Georgia after trailing by nine at the half. In the second round, a very well coached and solid Purdue team gave them a run, but in the end, the Xavier balance did the Boilers in. Four starters were in double figures, with C.J. Anderson and Drew Lavender both scoring 18. "We have a number of different players that can answer the bell on offense," said coach Sean Miller. "It's really a unique team to guard, because on different nights different people can beat you."
You Gotta Love Huggins - Everywhere the man goes, Bob Huggins just keeps winning. After lucking into a first round win over Belmont, Duke wasn't so lucky against a well oiled West Virginia machine. Joe Alexander has become a superstar over the last month of the season and the X-factor Joe Mazzulla came off the bench to score 13 points, grab 11 boards, and dish out eight assist. This is a typical tough-minded Huggins team. There is not reason they can't keep this run going.