There's a reason many consider March to be the best time of the sports year. After four days of basketball, there have been four buzzer-beaters and even more games decided in the final minute.
The county's unquestioned number one team was upset by a group, which a week earlier, wouldn't have been recognized when walking through the airport. Another squad that was ranked in the top five for most of the season lost to a bunch of kids from Australia. And oh yea, an Ivy League team is in the Sweet 16. It wouldn't be a hyperbole to call this the best opening weekend of the NCAA tournament ever.
If you haven't watched TV in the past week, here's what you missed:
Kansas Goes Down: It was a matchup straight out of Hollywood. The small farm boys with great fundamentals, essentially taking on a NBA roster. Kansas had guys coming off the bench who would star for Northern Iowa. But that's why they play the games. The underdogs played nearly flawless, while the Jayhawks All-Americans couldn't buy a bucket. Northern Iowa's diminutive point guard, Ali Farokmanesh, straight from Hoosiers central casting, was the hero for the Panthers. Northern Iowa is as solid fundamentally as any team in the tournament. They're also playing with house money right now. They may look a little out of place and goofy, but don't be surprised if they're playing in Indianapolis in two weeks.
The Woes Of The Big East: The myth of the Big East dominating the rest of the country is officially dead. The "best conference in the country" had eight teams receive bids to the tournament. After the first weekend, only two remain. Elite teams like Villanova and Georgetown bowed out to unknown St. Mary's and Ohio while the other four squads were beaten soundly as well. Amazingly, all six were favored in the matchups they lost.
So what does this tell us about the Big East? First of all, the tournament committee was far too generous to some of the conference's teams. Teams like Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame did nothing out of conference, but because of a few Big East wins, were launched into high seeds. There seems to be a cycle where all these teams beat up on each other and get ranked higher because of it. Hopefully next year the selection committee sees how much this conference's reputation has been inflated.
Cornell and St. Mary's: Cornell and St. Mary's upset wins were not as shocking as Northern Iowa's, but they were more impressive. The Gaels, led by 7-foot monster Omar Samhan, calmly eliminated Richmond and Villanova, two higher profile east coast teams. St. Mary's is an unlikely powerhouse; they start three players from Australia. For a NCAA tournament, which has seen little international flavor in the past, this is a welcome surprise.
No team has been as dominant in the first two rounds as the Cornell Big Red. The Ivy League squad played Temple and Wisconsin, two schools with championship pedigrees. Not only were they not intimidated; they waxed Temple by 13 and Wisconsin by 18. Yes, a school which isn't allowed to give athletic scholarships, beat a Bo Ryan coached team by 18 points in the NCAA tournament. The Big Red has gone from being a cute side story to a legitimate threat to reach the final four.
It's unlikely that the main stories of the first weekend will continue throughout the tournament.
The two Big East teams that are left, Syracuse and West Virginia, are two of the most talented teams in the final 16.
The three Cinderella's have all made their mark, but their road gets significantly tougher. Even in the loss, Kansas gave the rest of the field a blueprint to beat Northern Iowa. Run a full-court press all game to highlight the Panthers lack of athleticism. While St. Mary's beat two tough teams, neither had any interior answer for Samhan. This isn't the case for their next opponent, Baylor, one of the biggest and deepest teams in the field. And while Cornell taking down number one seed Kentucky would be great for basketball on multiple levels, it's unlikely.
The Wildcats are too athletic for the Big Red's plodding style. Cornell matched up well with Temple and Wisconsin; they don't at all with Kentucky.
Predictions aside, this opening weekend proved one thing about the NCAA tournament, nobody knows what's going to happen. And that's why we love it.
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