What an exciting weekend of basketball on weekend one of the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look around the nation with the second and third rounds now complete.
I knew it was going to be a bad idea to pick against Brad Stevens and Butler. I just didn’t trust them. And they almost made me pay. Butler’s big guys shut down Mike Muscala and held him in check for the better part of the game against Bucknell in round 2 before exiting with a loss to Marquette. But boy, was it a couple fun games to watch or what? Marquette and Indiana are now just one win away from a very interesting meeting between coach and mentor should Marquette knock off Miami, and Indiana beat Syracuse.
Michigan State looked very impressive and it’s going to take a very strong team to knock Tom Izzo’s squad out of the big dance. Adrian Payne continues to impress me every time he steps on the floor. With Keith Appling and Gary Harris running the show in Auburn Hills, it was going to take a very impressive showing from Memphis to knock them off on Saturday. Guess what? Memphis wasn’t there for the second half. The Tigers made some good plays to claw back into it, but Sparty looked very good in a blowout win, payback for the 2008 debacle. MSU is showing itself to the nation as a title contender.
How about the season St. Louis had? Man, was it special or what? The late Rick Majerus had to be looking down and smiling on the Billikens all year long after his death in December. Majerus wasn’t just one of the best coaches in basketball, he was one of the best people in basketball. St. Louis won more games than anybody else in school history and advanced to the 3rd round where they ran into a hot shooting, Rodney Dangerfield-esque team in Oregon. Nobody on SLU’s campus should be frowning today. They were one of the feel good stories in basketball.
Marquette survived and advanced this weekend. And that’s that matters in March. Marquette knew they were going to need two near perfect performances to advance to the Sweet Sixteen under Buzz Williams, and they got them. The Golden Eagles now have nothing to lose, as they prepare to take on Jim Larranaga’s Miami squad on Thursday night in Washington. Expect that game to be just an appetizer for the late game.
The top seeds looked very good this weekend, even if one lost and one barely made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Louisville looked unbeatable for stretches of their two victories over the weekend and the Cardinals have enough firepower to match their extremely talented defense. The hot pick by many to cut down the nets in Atlanta in April, Louisville will now need to beat Oregon and then either MSU or Duke to make it to Atlanta. That region will be fun to watch next weekend.
Kansas struggled early against a North Carolina team that was playing out of their minds in the first half, trying to give Roy Williams a huge, upset win against his former team. But Kansas just wasn’t having any of it. The Jayhawks ran away from Carolina in the second half and right into another Sweet Sixteen. Kansas, the national runner-up from last year, now gets to play a very tough, and very good Michigan squad. That game has the potential to be the game of the tournament.
Indiana survived as well this weekend and they now get to return to the Sweet Sixteen for a date with Syracuse, in a rematch of the 1987 National Championship game. The Hoosiers trailed for much of the second half against Temple but made big shots when they needed to be made. As Indiana came back and began clicking on offense, their defense stepped up as well, holding Khaliff Wyatt to zero field goals in the last 6:31 seconds of the game. The result? A Victor Oladipo 3-pointer to seal the deal and send Indiana to DC.
Gonzaga got all they wanted and more from Southern. Then the wheels came off. After a too close for comfort victory in the second round, the Zags were exposed by the hot shooting Shockers of Wichita State. Mark Few had his best team, probably in his tenure in Spokane, and they ended up being put out in the third round, another year without a Sweet Sixteen berth. Gonzaga hasn’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 2006, when Adam Morrison and company lost to a talented UCLA squad in Oakland.
I admit I didn’t know much about Florida Gulf Coast till this week, but I had at least heard of them. They beat Miami earlier in the year when the Hurricanes were without arguably their best player. Since then, they have become this years Cinderella. After upsetting Georgetown in the second round and SDSU in the third round, they became the first ever #15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Good for them. They’re the feel good story of this tournament and now have a date with on Friday.
Oregon as a #12 seed and La Salle as a #13 seed will reach the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon gets a shot at Louisville and La Salle gets Wichita State. These two teams however, are very different. Oregon was vastly under seeded at the #12 position they currently inherit, while La Salle made it here through the First Four. Both teams have the potential to upset their Sweet Sixteen opponents, with La Salle probably having the better chance.
All in all, it was a wildly entertaining first weekend of March Madness. Let’s sit back and see what Thursday and Friday night bring us.