This edition of the NCAA Basketball tournament has brought some exciting basketball and startling upsets over the first three rounds. I attended the Portland regional and NetScouts Basketball had representation at many of the other sites. Here are some of our observations:
Of course everyone has been talking about the two upsets of the No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri by No. 15 seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State. To put it in perspective prior to this year, No. 15 seeds won four games and lost 104 against the No. 2 seeds. Then Norfolk State and Lehigh won back-to-back games. It just shows that any team is beatable under the right circumstances. It's what makes basketball, and the NCAA tournament, a great sport and event. If this were football, there's no way that Lehigh could beat a top football school like Alabama if they played a thousand times.
The selection committee pretty much got it right this year. There were some grumblings about South Florida making it to the first four, but then they destroyed Cal and Temple before running out of gas against Ohio, playing their third game in five nights.
While the No. 2 seeds have had their problems, the No. 1 seeds have looked the part. Syracuse has shaken off the ineligibility of Fab Melo with the help of solid inside work by Rakeem Christmas in dispatching UNC-Asheville and Kansas State. Fellow No. 1 seeds North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State all advanced to the Sweet 16 with a minimum of tension.
There are no teams from the mountain and pacific states left in the tournament. The Mountain West Conference appears to have been overrated. We had several scouts at the MWC tournament and we all came away pretty unimpressed. That turned out to be the case as UNLV (vs. Colorado), San Diego State (vs. N.C. State) and Colorado State (vs. Murray State) all lost their first game while New Mexico got by Long Beach State before losing to Louisville. The Pac-12′s two teams fared slightly better with Colorado getting a win vs. MWC member UNLV before getting wiped out by Baylor and Cal being embarrassed by South Florida.
The best conference appears to be the Big Ten, with the Big East next strongest. The Big Ten looks especially strong with Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio State in the final 16. Their lone blemish was Michigan's loss to No. 13 seed Ohio. Purdue beat a solid St. Mary's team and played Kansas extremely strong. Syracuse, Louisville and Marquette made it through for the Big East as well as Cincinnati, who won a defensive struggle against Florida State of the ACC. North Carolina and North Carolina State helped the ACC try to forget Duke's stunning loss and Virginia's embarrassing game against Florida.
Some of the better individual stories were the stars behind the two big upsets: Kyle O'Quinn of Norfolk State and C.J. McCollum of Lehigh. O'Quinn who had no scholarship offers other than Norfolk State, dominated the Missouri Tigers inside with 26 points and 14 rebounds. McCollum, No. 4 in the nation in scoring, torched Duke with 30 points in Lehigh's surprising win.
The toughest story was North Carolina's Kendall Marshall suffering a broken wrist as the Tar Heels were putting away Creighton. Marshall has been one of the top PG's in the tournament as he was more effective offensively (80 percent field goal shooting) in addition to his distribution skills. If he can't play the rest of the tournament it will obviously seriously hurt UNC's chances of reaching the title game.
While Norfolk State and Lehigh lost their second games, there are still several double-digit seeded teams left. No. 10 seed Xavier, 11 seed North Carolina State and 13 seed Ohio will try to continue to confound the experts in the next round.
Kansas played great defense in the last few minutes to come from behind and beat Purdue 63-60 despite Robbie Hummel's 26 points. It would have been nice to see Hummel in the Sweet 16 after coming back from two serious ACL operations.
The state of Ohio has an 8-0 tournament record as Ohio State, Ohio, Xavier and Cincinnati have all advanced to the Sweet 16. It's the first time one state has had four teams in the final sixteen. Xavier and Cincinnati have both advanced despite their unfortunate brawl on Dec. 10. Xavier was undefeated at the time and only went 13-12 the rest of the way until the tournament.