The NCAA Tournament looks awfully chalky this year. For the first time ever, all of the top three seeds have reached the Sweet 16. Two No. 4 seeds also made it through the tournament's first weekend.
What teams are left?
One is Purdue, the fifth seed out west, a team that many had as a Final Four dark horse early in the season. And were it not for a series of injuries during their season, Purdue would probably not be seeded so low.
The other is Arizona, a No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region that's reached 25 straight NCAA Tournaments—though this is the first time they have been seeded this low.
Not exactly full of cinderellas.
If I had to think of a word to describe the first weekend of the tournament this year, it would be "anti-climactic." Every buzzer-beater missed (almost); every upset attempt was foiled.
Every time you thought the incredible was about to happen, it...didn't.
That's not to say there weren't some fantastic finishes. The cajones Ronald Moore showed at the end of each overtime against Ohio State will be immortalized in "One Shining Moment." Demetri Goodson became a household name for all of 24 hours when he went coast-to-coast to help Gonzaga stave off David-wannabe Western Kentucky (Think about how far the Gonzaga program has come now that they're considered a "Goliath" in the tourney). The back-to-back and-ones by Tyler Smith and Byron Eaton were two of the best individual plays of the 48 games.
But there was nothing like this. Or this. This, either.
Perhaps the weekend can best be summarized by Lazar Hayward. Hayward is a forward for Marquette, and a damn good one at that. He had a good first weekend, averaging 19.5 PPG and 9.5 RPG, as the Eagles advanced to the second round, despite having half of Dominic James. In fact, it was Hayward's heroics against Utah State that was the reason Marquette was even playing Missouri in the second round.
In the first half, Marquette found themselves down 16 points to Mizzou, unable to solve the Tigers' press and transition game. The Eagles had no quit in them, however, as they fought all the way back, even taking the lead for a stretch at the end of the second half. With the score tied at the end of the game, Mizzou guard J.T. Tiller drove to the hoops, drawing a foul. After two Missouri foul shots, Marquette had the ball under the basket with 5.5 seconds left. With the likes of Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews to take the ball the length of the court, a two-point lead was not safe.
It should have been a classic ending. Everyone was expecting a moment you would always remember. The entire viewing audience wanted a play that would go down in tournament history, a play that would certify the career of one lucky Marquette Golden Eagle.
None of that happened.
Instead, as Hayward was about to inbound the ball, a Missouri player darted into the passing lane. Hayward held on to the ball, not wanting to throw it away and commit a turnover. But his momentum carried his right foot across the end line.
Violation. Turnover. Missouri ball.
After two Leo Lyons free throws, the game was over.
It was a common theme in 2009's version of the first weekend. East Tennessee State gave Pitt everything they could handle, pressing the Panthers and crashing the offensive glass, but in the end, Pitt was just too much, as the Buccaneers faded back into college hoops obscurity. Cleveland State missed 20 of their 23 three-point attempts, as their quest for the Sweet 16 and tournament immortality was ended by Nic Wise and Arizona.
Ben Woodside of North Dakota State—this year's trendy pick, in the mold of Davidson's Stephen Curry—shined, but was outdueled by Sherron Collins, as the Bisondid not have the horses to run with Kansas.
That isn't a bad thing, it just means that you have to dig a little bit deeper for the interesting story lines.
Instead of focusing on how Woodside could not carry his team to an upset of the defending National Champion, how about you focus on the fact that he and his classmates came to NDSU when it was a D1 transitional school, and spent their freshman year sitting on the bench as red shirts just so they had the opportunity to take a run at the tournament as fifth-year seniors (worked out pretty well, didn't it).
Don't knock Arizona if you believe they did not deserve to get into the tournament. Celebrate the fact that the guys that gutted out an extremely tough time for one of the NCAA's marquee college basketball programs are now getting a chance to play the No. 1 overall seed in the Sweet 16.
Instead of knocking Jim Calhoun for playing guys with spotty records like A.J. Price and Stanley Robinson, praise Calhoun and the players for remaining dedicated and turning their lives around, bringing a team back into national prominence after finishing 11th in the Big East last year.
Don't call Blake Griffin soft for not retaliating when he gets beat up by opponents. Appreciate the fact that someone whose ability thrives on his raw athleticism and aggression is able to contain his emotions when he is repeatedly on the receiving end of cheap shots. Then get on YouTube and spend the next hour in awe over what the kid can do at the rim.
While you can complain about how much Ty Lawson's toe has been in the news, you have to be able to give the kid credit for taking over the game against LSU, scoring 21 points in the second half, with the amount of pain he was in.
There were no buzzer beaters in the first 48 games. There is no bandwagon to jump on this year.
The slipper doesn't fit. Anyone.
While it may hurt the appeal of the dance for the casual fan, if you are a college hoops aficionado, then the outcome of this weekend should have you foaming at the mouth as we get some fantastic match-ups. Xavier coach Sean Miller, a star player at Pitt from 1987-92, is one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country, and has long been rumored to be the heir to the throne of the Panthers. Duke and Villanova are so similar and match up so well, the game can't be anything short of sensational.
Michigan State-Kansas. Missouri-Memphis. UConn-Purdue. Everywhere you look, there are great games that are going to be played. So what a chalky tournament lacks in early round cinderellas, it makes up for with blockbuster match-ups all throughout the second weekend.
Most importantly, when thinking about this first weekend of play, remember this: The best is yet to come.
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