That was pretty fun.

Now I’m pretty young, but if anyone can remember a better opening to the NCAA Tournament than what we saw on Thursday, please let me know. Honestly, I cannot remember a better start to this tournament in the 21 years I’ve been alive. Let’s recap the first round (mostly day one) to start:
-Old Dominion perfects zone defense to shut down Notre Dame, hold the Big East’s all-time leading scorer to four points, and send the Irish packing early with an exciting 51-50 win.
-Jimmer Freddette puts his mark on this tournament early leading BYU to a double-OT win over Florida with 37 points. Freddette’s backcourt mate Michael Loyd Jr. comes off the bench and goes off for 26 points (only about 21 more than his season average). Everyone falls in love with the Cougars.
-Murray State provides us with the tournament’s first buzzer-beater. The 13th-seeded Racers knock off Vanderbilt courtesy of a Danero Thomas jumper that just beat the horn.
-Ali Farokhmanesh would make a bigger name for himself with another three-pointer two days later, but the magic started when he hit the deep triple to beat UNLV and set up Northern Iowa’s second-round date with Kansas.
-Unknown 15-seed Robert Morris takes mighty Villanova to OT before falling to the Wildcats. Some awful officiating tainted one of the tourney’s most intriguing games. Even though the name makes me think more of Saved by the Bell than it does basketball, the Patriots led almost all the way before Scottie Reynolds helped ‘Nova avoid an embarrassing first-round upset. The Wildcats had been collapsing down the stretch, but Reynolds wouldn’t let a 15-seed put the cherry on top of that collapse.
-Omar Samhan guaranteed his peers at St. Mary’s College in California that the Gaels would win the national title this year. They hadn’t won a tourney game since 1959, but he played a big role in keeping that dream alive by torching the Richmond Spiders in round one to the tune of 29 points and 12 boards. And he wasn’t done yet.
-Ishmael Smith’s last-second jumper put an end to the Texas tailspin that saw the Longhorns go from 17-0 and #1 in the nation to an eight-seed bumped from the tourney in the first round.
-Quincy Pondexter continued the Big East’s first-round woes, knocking in a ten-footer to send sixth-seeded Marquette home after the Huskies ran through the Pac-10 Tourney just to make the field of 65.
-Speaking of a team that ran through their conference tournament and the Big East’s first-round woes, the Ohio Bobcats absolutely dominate Georgetown in the first round’s most shocking upset. The Bobcats were seeded ninth in the MAC Tourney before making their improbable run to get into the Big Dance. Once there, they made the most of it, knocking off the third-seeded Hoyas for their first tourney win in 27 years.

Day two included some good games, but had a tough act to follow after the drama we saw on Thursday. But those games set up some intriguing match-ups to see who would make it to the second weekend and the round of 16. So let’s take a look at some of the excitement that was Round 2:
-Right off the bat, Saturday saw a supposed giant fall. Villanova had looked shaky in nearly losing to Robert Morris two days earlier, and St. Mary’s put an end to the Wildcats season with an impressive 75-68 win. Samhan was huge again with 32 points (on 13-16 shooting) and seven boards. But it was two shots by some of Samhan’s lesser-known teammates that stood out for me. Check out the :30 mark and the :51 mark on this video and enjoy the moves of Matthew Dellavedova and “the kiss” from Mickey McConnell.

-When I went upstairs for the first time to talk to my roomies, I sat down in my recliner and told them, “Upset alert today: Northern Iowa over Kansas. I’m calling it.” I swear to you I did. I had talked about how good they were in my Selection Sunday post and in my pre-Tournament post. But as I sit here and toot my own horn, Little Guy’s response to my line mentioned above puts me in my place: “Then why didn’t you have the balls to put it on your bracket,” he says. The reason? Because I am a giant p***y who talks a great game.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about the Northern Iowa Panthers. They trailed 2-0, then took a 3-2 lead they’d never relinquish. They led the game for a little more than 39 minutes of the 40 minute game with the nation’s best team. They dictated the pace of the game and controlled everything from the opening tip. They took Kansas out of their comfort zone and made them play the game Northern Iowa decided they would play. In the lane, Jordan Egleseder played with Cole Aldrich all day. Defensively, the Panthers shut down the kU transition game and they stifled them in the halfcourt. It was an impressive showing from a very good team that topped Ohio for the tourney’s biggest upset.
Farokhmanesh had that big three to beat UNLV in the first round. And an even bigger one against the Jayhawks that took some serious stones.
And on top of that, how about Jake Koch stepping in and sacrificing his body to take the HUGE charge on kU’s Tyrell Reed. A tip of the Tennent’s to his play there. Also not the reaction of Farokhmanesh after the charge is called. I’d say it sums up the excitement of the Panthers.
And, in honor of Mr. Farokhmanesh, enjoy this. Because I’m a child.

-Maryland and Michigan St. treat us to an instant classic on Sunday. Greivis Vasquez deserved a better end to a very good career for the Terps, but hats off to Korie Lucious for stepping up and hitting the three at the buzzer. That was as fun a finish as we saw in the first weekend. But the Spartans also lost Kalin Lucas. That might help Northern Iowa make it to the Elite Eight. The Spartans don’t have any games to try and get into a rhythm without Lucas. It’s gonna take some of Tom Izzo’s best work to take down the Panthers this week.
-Impressive win for Washington over New Mexico. Everyone will say they were seeded too high at a three, but the Lobos weren’t just a bunch of scrubs. What the Huskies did to them was impressive and has me wondering if they might be able to take down West Virginia.
-The Mountaineers absolutely controlled the game against Mizzou from the opening tip. The Tigers want to turn you over and run run run. From the opening tip, WVU took care of the ball and played great basketball in the halfcourt. People say they can’t score enough to beat UK. Their defense is good. They are well-coached. Don’t be shocked if they find a way to slow down the Wildcats.
-Another OT thriller ended the day when Purdue and Texas A&M went down to the wire. After being left for dead without Robbie Hummel, the fourth-seeded Boilermakers weren’t even favored to beat Siena in the first round. I didn’t think they would, either. Now they’re playing in the Sweet 16 and looking pretty good. It doesn’t get any easier, though, as they have to face Duke this week.
-Xavier is not a mid-major. They’ve made the Sweet 16 in the last three seasons. They’re one of only six schools (along with Duke, Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, and Michigan State) to make the Sweet 16 at least four times since 2004. You don’t put yourself in the conversation with those teams by being a mid-major. Sure, they aren’t in a power conference, but they have high-major talent and high-major results (and spend high-major money).
But enough with the debate. A great win for the Muskies yesterday over Pitt. Jordan Crawford is outstanding, Jason Love is playing good basketball and Terrell Holloway was huge defensively. Chris Mack is catching loads of crap today for not fouling if Pitt hits a three to tie it on either of their last two chances. Lucky for him, it’s a hypothetical situation. X is a tough out.
-Cornell was impressive offensively against a very good defensive team in Wisconsin (and equally as impressive against another good squad in Temple in the first round). They’re the first Ivy League team to make the Sweet 16 since Penn marched to the Final Four back in 1979. They’re only the third Ivy League school to ever make the Sweet 16, joining that ’79 Penn squad and the 1978 Penn team that made it to the round of 16. Cornell had never won a tournament game prior to Friday. Now they’re looking at pulling off an upset of epic proportions. I think Coach Cal and Kentucky have their hands full with the Big Red. Based on his interview on Mike and Mike this morning, I think he knows it.
Kentucky pulled off a major upset against Cornell last week…in women’s polo. Maybe this Cornell team can return the favor?
-And how awesome was it having Gus Johnson calling some of the games. If you enjoy Gus as much as you should, you’ll really enjoy this: HE GETS BUCKETS!

All in all, it was a great weekend of basketball. Excitement, drama, upsets and good basketball. That’s why these four days are the best in basketball, without a doubt. It was absolutely insane. The leaders in all of my bracket pools (including the TAC&RPS Bracket Challenge) only got 11 of the 16 teams remaining. And it’s given us an awesome Sweet 16 to look forward to. 11 different conferences are represented in this year’s Sweet 16 (West Coast Conference, Missouri Valley Conference, Ivy League, Atlantic 10, Horizon League, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC, SEC). It gives us a lot of match-ups we don’t normally see and it oughtta be a blast.
My predictions:
-Michigan State doesn’t have enough time to recover from losing someone as important as Kalin Lucas. I think Northern Iowa’s Cinderella story continues to the Elite Eight.
-Tennessee has shown flashes of brilliance this season and looked strong against an overmatched Ohio squad, but I think Evan Turner is too good. And he’s gotten some support from the likes of David Lighty and Jon Diebler. I take the Buckeyes to move on.
-Syracuse looked scary good against Gonzaga. And Arinze Onuaku wasn’t even back. If he’s back against Butler, this game’s a no-brainer. If he’s not, I still take the Orange. I just don’t see any teams beating the zone the first time they see it.
-Kansas State already beat Xavier once this year. I think they’re too good in the backcourt and have more talent and athleticism across the board. Still, both of these teams can legitimately think about making it to Indy and could have before the tournament. Xavier’s good and will be a very tough out, but I think K-State beats them again.
-St. Mary’s has been outstanding and has won the hearts of plenty of people across the country. Hard not to root for a kid named Mickey McConnell, ain’t it? After watching this team, I have no doubt they can play with anyone. Samham’s been a stud and they are so unselfish. All that considered, I think Baylor’s athleticism gives them the edge here. I’ll take the Bears to make it to the Elite Eight.
-Duke already pounded Purdue on the road last year when they had Robbie Hummel. Even though the Boilermakers are playing very well without him, I think Duke has too much firepower. Singler, Smith and Scheyer can all score in bunches, and the Blue Devils have started to develop an inside game, too. The inside-outside combination is too much. Duke moves on.
-Washington is red hot right now. They played great basketball throughout the Pac-10 tourney and have continued to play great basketball in their first two games this past weekend. They were especially impressive in their dismantling of New Mexico on Sunday. But West Virginia knows how to control a game’s tempo and they have superior talent on their side. I picked the Mountaineers to make the Final Four and win it all. In order to do that, they need to beat Washington, so I will pick them to do so.
-Cornell has been very good all season. In case everyone had forgotten, they went in to Phog Allen Fieldhouse and almost beat Kansas. Even though they’re not in the field anymore, Kansas is a very good team. Cornell is, too. They never got attention before now because they’re in the Ivy League, but they deserve the attention they’re getting. They’ve torched two very, very good defensive teams. But I just get the feeling Kentucky will overwhelm them. The Wildcats have too much speed, athleticism and talent. They’ve got four future pros starting. Cornell hasn’t seen the kind of talent Kentucky will have on the floor. I think UK’s inexperience won’t catch up with them for another round.

That leaves us with these Elite Eight match-ups:
-Ohio State vs. Northern Iowa — My winner: Ohio State
-Syracuse vs. Kansas State — My winner: Syracuse
-Duke vs. Baylor — My winner: Duke
-West Virginia vs. Kentucky — My winner: West Virginia
That leaves us with a Final Four of:
-Ohio State vs. Syracuse — My winner: Syracuse
-West Virginia vs. Duke — My winner: West Virginia
And for the Championship:
-Syracuse vs. West Virginia — My winner: West Virginia

So there you have it. Mountaineers over the Orange for the title. The Big East catches a ton of crap for its poor showing in the Tourney but end up with the last two teams standing. West Virginia uses its defense, experience and athleticism to get to the finals, and that’s what wins it for them. Syracuse’s zone confused its other opponents, but West Virginia has seen it before. Bob Huggins gets his first title.

That’s all I’ve got for the Big Dance. Now for the Little Dance to the Big Apple, the NIT:
-An NCAA Tournament-like game between UConn and Virginia Tech tonight on ESPN. An absolutely awesome atmosphere for Va. Tech, even if it was only the NIT. You’ve gotta love to see that kind of support for a squad that’s worked like the Hokies all season. Big win for the Hokies.
-Hopefully the Bearcat faithful have a similar showing at Fifth-Third for the Cincy/UD match-up. But, really, only if the ‘Cats show they deserve it. Because Cincinnati looks completely uninspired and uninterested in this game. At least Virginia Tech was willing to reward their fans with an inspired effort en route to a victory.
Dayton cannot miss. And Cincinnati can’t seem to get a hand in anyone’s face. Maybe those two things are related. The Flyers are 9-15 from long distance so far. We’ve only played one half. And Jaquon Parker and Lance Stephenson have both gone down with injuries.
But Born Ready returned (then got nailed in the face on a fast break) and the Bearcats have shifted momentum going into the half. Deonta Vaughn is hitting shots and Cincy’s hitting the boards and playing some good zone defense. They trailed by as many as 17 at one point, but outscored UD 34-17 to close the half and trail by only five. This one should be fun to watch.

Isla Fisher married Borat?! Is that serious? Well, she actually married Sacha Cohen, who is far more normal than either of his alter-egos – you know, Borat and Bruno – both in looks and actions (I think). It’s just hard to take him seriously when all I can think when I see him is Borat and Bruno. I’m normal. Why doesn’t Isla Fisher want to marry me? Oh well.

-Speaking of marriage, Tiger Woods did an interview with Tom Rinaldi. Rinaldi’s a class act, asks tough questions without pressing Tiger and does his job well. It’s interviews like this one that have Tiger willing to talk to you before anyone else. He didn’t give us a ton of answers to the questions a lot of people want to know, but he fielded questions. That’s a start. I didn’t take much new from this interview, but I think Tony Kornheiser hit it right on the nose with the one thing I did take from it: I think he really wants to stay married to Elin. Go ahead and say it’s for money or for his image or some other selfish reason, but I feel like that’s the one thing I took from his exchange with Rinaldi.

-Speaking of Tiger, The Masters is right around the corner. I can almost smell the azaleas. Nothing beats the four days that makes up this tournament. That includes the four days I discussed above. I love this tournament more than anything and I’d give anything to be there for the tournament (even though playing at Augusta National is the top thing on my personal bucket list).
I’ve told my friends time and time again that my wedding day would be the third happiest day of my life. The happiest day is when I played The Old Course at St. Andrew’s twice in one day (and dominated it, for the record). The second happiest was getting the chance to enter the hallowed grounds that is Augusta National. I’ve never had chills for an entire day, but I must admit I had chills from the moment I woke up to the moment I left the grounds on that amazing Monday. The third happiest (as of now) will probably be my wedding day. So, to my future wife: if you’re reading this, uh, no offense?
But I’m so excited for this tournament, to put it lightly. Very excited. Tiger’s back at Augusta and practicing. I picked him to win another Green Jacket to mark his return. Only Ben Hogan has ever won The Masters when making his season debut at Augusta. If anyone else can do it, you’d have to think it’s Eldrick. After all, Hogan won his season debut at Augusta making a return from a car wreck. Granted, his wreck was far more severe, and his return came two years later. But any history that will support my theory is good for me.
Here’s Harry Connick, Jr., to get you excited for The Masters like me:

That’s all I’ve got today.
But here’s a metaphor for what it’s been like for Knicks fans everywhere the last decade or so. I figure she’s okay, so we can all laugh, right?

Altiora.

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~ by nchaney3 on March 22, 2010.

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