Monday, March 23, 2009

NCAA Tournament Weekend #1 -- no spoilers need apply

Unless you're a dope like Seth Davis (WAKE for the Final Four? Seriously?), all your Final Four teams should be alive and kicking today after the most upset-free NCAAs in recent memory. Only two of the top 16 seeds (the 1-4 slots) are out (the dishonor roll = Wake, Washington, both of whom The Monk said would bonk early). And the Thursday/Friday games this week have many top-notch matchups: UNC-Gonzaga, Villanova-Duke, Michigan State-Kansas, Syracuse-Oklahoma, Pitt-Xavier.

Some quick notes:

(1) The best team over the weekend was Connecticut, and it's not close. UConn drubbed the obligatory first-round fodder and then crushed Texas A&M by 26. Compare that with Pitt (combined margin of victory, 18 points) and Louisville (27). Even North Carolina needed Ty Lawson to take control to overcome LSU, the regular season champ of the worst major conference. Such first weekend dominance doesn't necessarily translate to ultimate success. After all, UNC averaged winning its four East Regional games by 22.8 points last year, and Kansas killed it quick in the Final Four. (Even harder fall from grace: 1993 Kentucky rampaged through the Southeast Regional by 31 ppg and lost in OT to Michigan in the Final Four.)

(2) The worst team to survive the weekend, or more appropriately, the biggest underperformer, was Pitt. Villanova won its two games by 33 points, including a 20-point thumping of UCLA; Syracuse won its two games by 26. Those are 3-seeds. Pitt was neck-and-neck with 16-seed ETSU in round one and barely beat mid-Big 12 entry Oklahoma State in round two.

(3) The best performance to save a team's collective season: Robert Sallie. He had never topped 13 points in a game before, but in Memphis' first-round game against Cal State Northridge, he hit for 35. That's ridiculous. And the only reason Memphis won.

(4) Worst performance of the weekend: Wake. Bad enough that it was the only 1-4 seed not to win a game, the Deacons got whupped by Cleveland State by 15. Honorable mention to Utah (blown up by 12-seeded Arizona) and West Virginia (only Big East team to lose in round one, and to a lower-seeded stiff from the A-10).

(5) Best conference: Big East. After all the hype, the Big East performed. The three #1 seeds did what they're supposed to do, Villanova regained its footing against American then waxed Maryland, and Syracuse had only a minor challenge from ASU. The Selection Committee could have come under some fire for seeding Syracuse with a 3 (SU's RPI was 12, its ranking was lower), but SU performed well.

(6) Most overrated conference: ACC. Four first-round losers among its seven entrants and then Maryland was done by the end of the first half in its second round game against Memphis. That's the same Memphis that would've lost to a 15-seed. Worse yet, all four first-round losers were higher seeds. Two were blown out (BC, Wake) and two lost to lower-seeded Big T(elev)en teams (FSU, Clemson) and the Big T(elev)en is supposed to suck worse than the ACC. If Duke and Carolina do make the Final Four, that means nothing about the strength of the ACC -- this year, they're just two good teams who happen to play in that conference.

(7) Team I'd least like to be in the next round: Purdue. That flat-footed Big T(elev)en style is no way to prepare for a team with the speed and strength of Connecticut.

(8) Intriguing matchups: (a) Duke/'Nova -- they're similar outside-oriented teams with similar styles; (b) UNC-Gonzaga -- put up or shut up time for the Zags after surviving Western Kentucky in a near-home game (Portland, Oregon); (c) Michigan State-Kansas -- MSU is one of the few Big T(elev)en teams that can run to any degree; (d) Oklahoma-Syracuse -- a rematch of the '03 East Regional Final when SU thumped the Sooners by 16 (and SU could have won by 25 if it hadn't been sloppy -- 24 turnovers); this OU team has the best forward in the country and a much better coach than its '03 counterpart (Jeff Capel, whose dad was a coach and who played for the nation's best coach, Coach K; versus Kelvin Sampson who left sh-tstorms in his wake at OU and once-proud Indiana), and SU doesn't have Carmelo Anthony . . . but Jonny Flynn doesn't stink.

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