Where Cinderellas Perish: March Madness First Weekend Superlatives
March Madness is one-third of the way complete, and if you subscribe to the theory that the best teams in the country will separate themselves throughout the course of the tournament, then you probably got to compliment yourself on your bracket around the water cooler on Monday morning.
As we saw the original field of 65 trimmed down to 16, there were some memorable performances that kept Americans on the edge of their sofas and office chairs for a four-day stretch that is arguably among the most compelling in all of sports.
There's always time to try and dissect what will happen next, but in the whirlwind of 48 games in one weekend, sometimes it helps to look back to see what we may have watched but never really absorbed from the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. Here are a few superlatives from this year's version of March Madness:
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Robert Sallie's 35-point, 10 three-pointer explosion vs. Cal-State Northridge.
If Memphis gets to the Final Four, this guy may deserve the Most Valuable Player award simply for getting them past the first round.
Against a small, quick, and scrappy bunch from 15th-seeded Northridge, the Tigers looked over-matched at times offensively—until Sallie began raining threes from all over the floor.
This showing, from a guy who averaged 4.5 points per game coming in, may prove to be the most clutch of the tournament.
Honorable Mention: Cole Aldrich's triple-double vs. Dayton, A.J. Price's play the entire weekend.
MOST DOMINANT TEAM:
Connecticut (won by 56 vs. Chattanooga, won by 26 vs. Texas A&M).
In a tournament in which fellow top seeds Louisville and Pitt have struggled to survive, the Huskies have been remarkably focused and consistent.
Blowing out Chattanooga in the opener was only shocking because Jim Calhoun wasn't there, but handling the red-hot Aggies like they did proved this team is here to make a run.
Honorable Mention: NONE.
BIGGEST BUST: Wake Forest (lost to 13th-seeded Cleveland State 84-69).
Really, Wake Forest? After being ranked No. 1 at one point in the season, the Demon Deacons left with their heads down after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Vikings, a loss which I correctly predicted—take that, America!
This team played to the level of its competition all season long, and this matchup was the perfect storm, as Cleveland State played solid defense and did not turn the ball over.
Even for a young team, though, this should never have happened—definitely not to such a talented roster.
Honorable Mention: West Virginia (lost to 11th-seeded Dayton 68-60).
Purdue (beat Northern Iowa by 5, beat Washington by 2).
On paper, it just looks like the fifth-seeded Boilermakers struggled to squeak by each of their first two opponents. But a closer look suggests that no team overcame more than Matt Painter's squad in the first two rounds.
For starters, Northern Iowa was a veteran team that was under-seeded and really pushed hard toward the end. Then they had to face No. 4 seed Washington in a virtual road game in Portland.
The fact that they were able to survive makes them legitimate Final Four contenders in the Glendale regional.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh (beat under-seeded East Tennessee State by 10, beat Oklahoma State by 8).
Gonzaga freshman Demetri Goodson's runner with 0.9 seconds left to beat Western Kentucky 83-81.
Can anyone say Tyus Edney? Just like the former UCLA point guard in the mid-1990s, Goodson raced up the floor from an inbounds pass and banked in the game-winning shot for the Bulldogs.
That runner ended what may have been the best game so far in the Big Dance.
If Gonzaga knocks off North Carolina, they will have this young man to thank for the opportunity to even be there.
Honorable Mention: Siena guard Ronald Moore's two clutch three-pointers to send the game into double overtime, then to win it in the extra session.
BIGGEST BONEHEAD PLAY:
Morgan State forward Ameer Ali's flip of Blake Griffin.
Down a ton late in the game, Ali decided to get chippy with Griffin, arguably the nation's best player.
The two got tangled up under the rim, so to untangle himself, Ali decided to throw Griffin over his back and onto the ground.
This was such a ridiculous play that I think the kid should be suspended for the start of next season. Griffin didn't seem to mind, though; he let his play do the talking.
Honorable Mention: Clemson's Terrence Oglesby elbowing Michigan's Stu Douglass.
FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL:
The Panthers showed the toughness to survive a strong test from East Tennessee State, one of the best low seeds in history. Then the Panthers knocked off Oklahoma State in what was a difficult matchup for them.
They still possess the best combination of point guard (Levance Fields), wing player (Sam Young), and post presence (DeJuan Blair) in the field, which gives them the edge.
Honorable Mention: Louisville.
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