No Cinderella, No Problem
The first weekend of the most chaotic and entertaining sporting event in America has come and gone, yet something is missing.
There is only one team with a seed lower than No. 5 still remaining, but they, too, hail from a power conference.
Where is this year's George Mason or Davidson?
Ben Woodside, who put up a ridiculous 37 points on Kansas, had a chance to lead his team to the second weekend, yet North Dakota State's No. 14 proved to be too low to overcome a powerful Jayhawk squad led by Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich.
In fact, only two teams that were in the committee's top sixteen failed to make it to the Sweet 16. It is uncharacteristic for the tournament to produce a second weekend such as this, but the same could be said for last year's Final Four, in which all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the semifinals.
With or without a Cinderella though, March Madness will go on. It will still be a great tournament filled with surprises and disappointments. There is still a reason for fans to watch, even if they can't unify to root for the underdog.
As I did last year, I plan to hand out some awards to recognize those with superb performances in the first two rounds of play. I should mention that it is not a requirement for that player to play in both rounds.
The Stephen Curry Award: This award was renamed after last year's remarkable performance by the now-famous Davidson sharpshooter. Before that, it was named in honor of Petey Sessoms, but I will confess that I did not come up with the idea for this award. The credit goes to a fellow sports writer from FanNation.
The award is given to the relatively-unknown player from a mid-major school who does extremely well when he arrives at the NCAA Tournament. This year, Ben Woodside would have been the obvious pick, but he had already received plenty of recognition for his 60-point outburst earlier this year at the hands of Stephen F. Austin.
Ronald Moore, the Siena guard who delivered not one, but two clutch three-pointers in the overtimes against Ohio State, was another good choice given his 10-assist, four-steal performance against Louisville in the second round.
However, it was hard to justify not giving it to the man with averages of 18 points, five rebounds, and six and one-half assists. He led his team to a comeback in a variety of ways. The 2009 Curry Award goes to Orlando Mendez-Valdez of Western Kentucky.
The Best Individual Battle: Only one pair of players really stood out in my mind as candidates for this particular award. These two players highlighted a first-round game that was truly a David/Goliath matchup in every sense of the term.
North Dakota State, a team completely new to Division-I, made it to the tournament this year behind a captivating scorer that finished in the top 10 nationally in points per game. The committee matched them up in the first round against Kansas, the defending national champs. They, too, had an exceptional scorer at the point guard position, Sherron Collins.
These two traded baskets and made play after play for their team to have a chance at victory.
Woodside finished with 37 points in a loss while Collins put up 32 points to go along with eight assists. Even better was being able to watch it.
The Most Shocking Upset: As I mentioned earlier, this year's first weekend truly lacked the magnitude of upsets seen in previous tournaments, so I am left with one choice— Cleveland State over Wake Forest.
Sadly, it wasn't even considered a huge upset to those that actually follow the college game all year long. Cleveland State had already upset Syracuse at the Carrier Dome earlier this year and were led by a group of experienced upperclassmen.
The Demon Deacons, on the other hand, were a very young and inexperienced team that floundered as the year went on.
Even though the upset itself wasn't drop-dead shocking, the way Cleveland State completely manhandled Wake Forest from start to finish was indeed drop-dead shocking. I doubt that anyone expected that type of a game.
The Favorite: The team chosen from the very beginning remains as the top choice to cut down the nets in Detroit. North Carolina received 21 second-half points from Ty Lawson, a player that didn't even play in the first round or the ACC Tournament, to survive the scare put forth by LSU.
Tyler Hansbrough, officially college basketball's most hated person behind only the entire Binghamton Bearcats team, came back to Chapel Hill for one reason: To win a National Championship. With the return of Lawson, his reason for returning should become reality.
North Carolina has really given a team effort with many guys contributing to their success in the first weekend. There are, conversely, players that received notoriety for their individual efforts, and they should be mentioned, too.
Byron Eaton, Oklahoma State—His averages of 18 points, nine assists, and three steals per tournament game look even better after you reflect upon the game-winner he hit in the first round to defeat Tennessee.
Sherron Collins, Kansas—29 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game provide just an inkling of what the only Tournament-experienced Jayhawk offers to his Sweet Sixteen team.
Sam Young, Pitt—After a double-double in the first round, Young added to his impressive resume with a 32 and eight showing against Oklahoma State. Without him, we could have been dealing with a No. 16 seed in the second round.
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma— In two games, the sophomore superstar from Oklahoma poured in 61 points and snatched 30 rebounds. This pick was a no-brainer.
Cole Aldrich, Kansas— He is the only player in this year's tournament who topped a double-double with a triple-double in the next game, which he accomplished when he scored 13 points, grabbed 20 rebounds, and rejected 10 shots in a win over Dayton.
Ben Woodside, North Dakota State
A.J. Price, UConn
Roburt Sallie, Memphis
Dante Cunningham, Villanova
Rick Jackson, Syracuse
Honorable Mention: Lazar Hayward, Marquette; Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Western Kentucky; A.J. Slaughter, Western Kentucky; Terrence Williams, Louisville; Nic Wise, Arizona.
The clock struck midnight a long time ago for the mid-majors. But that is not a reason to simply ignore the tournament when it resumes play on Thursday. Now is the time when the great teams separate themselves from the good teams and punch their tickets to Motown. It's just a shame that such an excellent basketball tournament will play its final games in a football stadium.
Final Four Picks: UConn, Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas. Nevertheless, there is still the lingering possibility of a repetition of 2008 with the top seeds.
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