From Fort Myers, Fla., to Cambridge, Mass., to Eugene, Ore. and everywhere in between, the madness is afoot—and it isn't about to abate.
The Round of 64 didn't start with its usual theatrics, but by late-night Thursday, things were cooking. And on Friday, the fire only burned brighter.
By week's end, the 32-game slate left us with plenty to discuss and the tantalizing prospect of more basketball to come.
Let's step to it, shall we?
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
The City of Brotherly Love placed three bubble teams in the NCAA tournament, and two of the three (La Salle and Temple) delivered opening-round victories, while the third (Villanova) battled back valiantly from an early hole to give North Carolina all it could handle.
Meanwhile, the folks back home were treated to a series of fantastic games at the Wells Fargo Center, the crown jewel of which was Florida Gulf Coast's stunning win over second-seeded Georgetown.
Big Five basketball is in an uneasy place at the moment. Villanova is off to the new Big East conference, while Temple heads to the dystopian husk that is the old Big East. La Salle and Saint Joe's are stuck in a weakening Atlantic 10, each uncertain of the basketball future that conference will provide.
And Penn is, well, Penn.
With all the moving parts in East Coast basketball, it's nice to see the city that gave us Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe and, most importantly, Rasheed Wallace making news on the court instead of off it.
At least for now.
Of all the perennial March Madness narratives, none is more delightfully addictive than the one where some high-school legend from Bubleton Saint Nowhere leads his reliably insignificant college to tournament glory, shredding a bunch of soulless blue bloods in the process.
Steph Curry did it in 2009 with Davidson. C.J. McCollum followed up last year. Bryce Drew does it annually in highlight reels and man-spray commercials. And it's always amazing.
The 2012-13 season featured a bumper crop of potential small-school stars, headlined by Saint Mary's Matthew Dellavedova, Bucknell's Mike Muscala, South Dakota State's Nate Wolters and Akron's Zeke Marshall.
Then the games started.
Dellavedova air-balled a go-ahead three-pointer in the closing seconds against Memphis. Muscala was manhandled by Butler. Wolters couldn't buy a bucket against Michigan. And Akron, missing four rotation players, got napalmed by VCU.
Put your typewriters away, boys. Nothing to lionize here.
Maybe you've heard of Marshall Henderson.
You know, the Ole Miss shooting guard who chucks basketballs like they're grenades, calls other SEC coaches "losers", poses for pictures like this and altogether acts like the most irritating/fascinating/impetuous/radiant athlete you've ever seen?
Ringing any bells?
Anyway, Marshall Henderson was up to his usual Marshall Henderson things in the Round of 64. And by "usual Marshall Henderson things," I mean taking 21 shots, missing 15 of them and dancing away with a smile on his face.
The smile had a lot to do with the fact that his Ole Miss team upset Wisconsin, 57-46, and that his rocket-ship ascent into the limelight will last at least another couple of days.
Elsewhere, Oregon glass-cleaning menace Arsalan Kazemi added to his growing legend with a 17-rebound performance in the Ducks' win over fifth-seeded Oklahoma State.
The 6'7" senior forward became the first-ever native Iranian to play Division I basketball when he signed on at Rice in 2009, and according to a recent New York Times profile, he first heard of the NCAA tournament five years ago.
The fans in Eugene are glad he did.
In his first and last season with the program, he's helped Dana Altman's crew go from 124th in defensive rebounding percentage to 22nd.
On the surface, I will admit: This slide makes no sense.
Seth Curry was brilliant on Friday, scoring a game-high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting to lead Duke past Albany in the Round of 64. He was the definitive offensive difference-maker for Mike Krzyzewksi's team, proving yet again how efficient he can be when given space to operate.
And really, Curry has been brilliant most of the year. His only struggles have been injury-related, specifically a balky right shin that's regularly kept him out of practice.
Curious as to how the ailment might be impacting Curry's recovery time, the folks over at Duke Hoop Blog ran the numbers and discovered that the senior sharpshooter has been significantly worse this year when playing on less than four days rest.
Duke will be back in action on Sunday against Creighton, and Curry, who was forced to play a game-high 36 minutes against the pesky Great Danes, will have to buck that troubling statistical trend in a game that's sure to be much closer than the one the Blue Devils played Friday.
I'd imagine that Duke (and Curry) would have preferred to separate early and get the senior some much-needed downtime.
Temple senior Khalif Wyatt is the rare basketball player whose lack of physical endowment actually augments his entertainment value.
The A-10's leading scorer doesn't jump high, run fast or really do anything measurably well. Except play basketball.
He's really, really good at playing basketball.
The common refrain with Wyatt is that he has "old man's game." I know that doesn't sound sexy, but it's a joy to watch. He dips. He dodges. He plays the angles.
On Friday against North Carolina State, the Norristown native manged 31 points on 9-of-22 shooting and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line.
His final six from the charity stripe came after incurring a late-game thumb injury.
North Carolina State has been a regular-season underachiever in each of Mark Gottfried's first two seasons at the helm.
The Wolfpack made amends last year with a surprise Sweet 16 run. This time around, there would be no midnight redemption.
Picked as the preseason ACC favorite, NC State was undone by a woeful defense that at times looked downright disengaged. And after giving up 76 points to Temple in the Round of 64, the Wolfpack are headed back to Raleigh.
Gottfried has proved plenty capable as a recruiter, but one wonders how long he can maintain that reputation if the on-court product doesn't improve. NC State had three potential NBA players in its starting five this year, and yet somehow manged to post a worse adjusted defensive efficiency rating than Wofford.
Maybe you'd argue that the players are to blame, but if the players in your starting five aren't playing any D, well, it's time to start other players.
Or change strategies.
Or buy a new pair of lucky socks.
Gottfried still deserves a little time to work this thing out, but patience has to be wearing significantly thinner than it was yesterday.
You can't say Tommy Amaker has revived Harvard basketball. There was nothing there to revive.
No, Tommy Amaker has created Harvard basketball. In fact, he's still creating Harvard basketball. The only question left to ask is how much further he can take this thing.
The former Duke standout has amassed such an outstanding collection of talent in Cambridge that his team withstood the loss of its four top players (two to graduation, two to an academic scandal) and still managed to win its second consecutive Ivy League title.
That's the real accomplishment here.
Of course, winning the first ever NCAA tournament game in program history is nice, too. And doing it with a roster that includes only one senior and the Ivy League Rookie of the Year is even nicer.
Banished from the bright lights after his underwhelming run at Michigan, Amaker has accepted the Harvard job with gusto, selling a historically reluctant administration on the value of college basketball and using the Crimson brand to attract players who otherwise would have attended scholarship schools.
You'd think at some point he hits the Ivy League ceiling, his progress blunted by admissions standards and the like. Then again, I'm not sure the Ancient Eight has ever seen a recruiter as dynamic as Amaker.
It'll be fascinating to see what kind of talent he lands after this latest triumph, and how long he remains in Cambridge.
Statement wins by Louisville and Syracuse couldn't save the Big East from a miserable opening act.
Pittsburgh looked overmatched against Wichita State. Cincinnati fell to Creighton in a brawl. Villanova couldn't overcome an early deficit against North Carolina. Notre Dame got steamrolled by Iowa State. Georgetown lost to a team that's been a full D-I member for less than two years.
The carnage was such that Marquette's miracle win over 14th-seeded Davidson now looks resplendent by comparison.
This certainly isn't the swan song most folks envisioned after an otherwise exciting valedictory season for the conference that damn near invented East Coast basketball. But I suppose this what we're going to get.
With Louisville and Syracuse still in the hunt, there's hope of a Big East team playing into April. Even Marquette has the potential to make a run.
But if the basketball gods were telling us anything this week, they seemed to be saying that the days of Ewing, Mullin and Pearl Washington are over—that we should give up the ghosts and move on.
Big East basketball will soon be the providence of history, and with each defeat, another latch closes on the vault.
Overmatched? Not a chance.
Six-foot-five-inch Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans scored 24 points in the Billikens' 64-44 opening-round win over New Mexico State, muscling past an Aggie frontcourt that included 6'8" senior Bandja Sy, 6'9" junior Renaldo Dixon and 7'5" freshman Sim Bhullar.
It was the third time in the last four games that Evans has tallied 24 or more.
Kansas State sophomore Angel Rodriguez had the ball in his hands with time winding down and a chance to atone for what had already been a miserable afternoon.
As you might have already guessed based on the central premise of this slide, he didn't.
With his team down two to La Salle with eight seconds left, the San Juan native danced through the lane looking for a final shot. He wound up trapped on the right baseline without an angle toward the hoop and flipped a one-handed prayer toward the basket out of necessity.
It missed the rim...by about a foot.
On the day, Rodriguez finished with two points on 0-for-6 shooting.
The soon-to-be-diluted Atlantic-10 is putting on one hell of a farewell tour.
Temple, Saint Louis, VCU, Butler and La Salle were all winners in the opening round, making the A-10 the only conference to earn three or more tournament bids and escape the Round of 64 unscathed.
And don't forget about style points.
Saint Louis walloped New Mexico State by 20. VCU embarrassed Akron, 88-42. Butler made relatively easy work of a talented Bucknell team. And the Philly schools (Temple and La Salle) each knocked off higher-seeded foes.
Perhaps we should have taken our lead from La Salle, who started the A-10's opening-round romp by topping Boise State in the First Four. After all, Boise State's Mountain West Conference was supposed to be the breakout mid-major league in this year's Big Dance.
Instead, the Explorers and their A-10 brethren are making all the noise, while New Mexico, UNLV and the rest of the MWC underwhelm yet again.
This was supposed to be the year, right?
All that "turmoil at the top." All that yakkin' about how the field was "wide open."
Blah. Blah. Blah.
Now I'm not saying there isn't more parity in college basketball than there was in prior decades, because there absolutely is.
But to say that a No. 16 seed will upset a No. 1 seed just because the college game is trending toward greater parity is a logical misstep.
Perhaps it's marginally more likely, but it's still a long shot. And a long shot it shall remain.
It stands to mention that Southern gave Gonzaga all it could handle out West, and the Jayhawks looked none too sharp against Western Kentucky.
But the other two top seeds were predictably dominant, and if you browse recent history, you'll find that No. 1 seeds today generally win by the same healthy margins as their predecessors.
Entering Friday, Cincinnati senior JaQuon Parker had scored in 42 consecutive games.
I think you know where I'm going with this...
The Virginia native missed all three of his shots and both of his free-throw attempts in the Bearcats' 67-63 loss to Creighton.
It was a brutal end to an otherwise good season for Parker, who shot a team-best 40.8 percent from three in 2012-13, the best mark of his career.
Overall, Mick Cronin's Bearcats fell well short of expectations. Park, Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick formed one of the Big East's best backcourts, but Cincinnati lacked production inside and never seemed to recover from a February slide in Big East play.
With its place in the realignment carousel still uncertain, it'll be interesting to see how Cincinnati and Cronin move forward over the next handful of seasons.
"If music be the food of love, play on."
—Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
I'm not entirely sure how that quote relates to the contents of this slide, except maybe the phrase "play on." But I needed a 12-seed hook that would grab the Anglophiles' attention, and this was what came to mind. Live with it.
Anyway, the No. 12 seeds went 3-1 in the Round of 64. Research tells me that's only happened one time before, in 2002.
Back then, the Cinderellas were Creighton (over Florida), Missouri (over Miami) and Tulsa (over Marquette).
This time around, the names weren't quite as titillating. Cal (over UNLV), Oregon (over Oklahoma State) and Ole Miss (over Wisconsin) are all power-conference teams. The first two were probably seeded a bit low, and Ole Miss is as hard to pin as anybody in the country.
But hey, they won. And the tournament format says they're big upsets, so let's slow clap it out for the little (big) guys.
If you watched even a couple of games this week, you probably saw at least one application of the NCAA's inane flagrant foul rule.
And although the rule isn't new, the anger directed toward it seems finally to have crested.
If you're unfamiliar, the NCAA rule book now stipulates that if a player swings his elbow and contacts an opponent anywhere above the shoulders, the play results in a flagrant foul, regardless of intent.
The intent part here is crucial. You could be swinging your elbow for a perfectly legitimate basketball reason, like, say, driving to the basket.
If someone else's head wanders into said elbow's path, you're getting booked.
Now I realize that it's difficult for referees to judge intent. And perhaps that's why college basketball changed the rule, to both discourage physical play and add clarity for the officials.
But it isn't working.
The main problem with the rule is that it's more likely to impact the end stages of a game, when defenses trap and offensive players need to clear space. The rule is also reviewable by replay, which wouldn't otherwise be problematic except for the fact that meetings (and near meetings) between face and elbow are all too common during a college basketball game.
I'm on board with cleaning up the college game, but penalizing players for unintentional contact seems both excessively punitive and fundamentally aimless.
I mean what exactly does a rule like this discourage? Elbow swinging occurs naturally in the course of human movement . Are we expecting college athletes to play basketball with their hands perpetually at their sides? Could they even do that if they tried?
We've yet to see a Flagrant 1 (as they're called) directly alter the outcome of a tournament game, but it's only a matter of time.
Doug McDermott and Creighton were nearly burned in their Round of 64 match-up with Cincinnati. Chances are, your team is next.
From an emotional and tactical standpoint, senior guard Sherwood Brown was the central figure in Florida Gulf Coast's win over second-seeded Georgetown. And if you want to slap the "hero" label across his chest, I couldn't argue with you.
But from a purely symbolic standpoint, I can't stop thinking about the pass FGCU's Brett Comer made to teammate Chase Fieler with 1:58 seconds remaining in the second half. It wasn't a play that turned the game. It wasn't a play that started a run or ended a run or really had any sort of consequence outside itself,
It was, however, the play that seemed to best capture whatever sort of fugue state the Eagles were in today. And it was freaking amazing.
The first thing you have to know about the pass is that it was an indisputably dumb decision.
Georgetown had cut the lead to seven with 2:03 left. FGCU broke the press with a series of passes that ended with the ball in Comer's possession at the Hoya three-point line. Comer probably should have pulled the ball out, but he charged toward the basket and drew two Georgetown defenders in the process.
As he careened toward the baseline Comer flipped a one-handed lob over his shoulder to Fieler, who caught the ball at the very top of his jump and thew it down with one hand.
Had the timing been off by even a half-second, the ball would have caromed to Georgetown and the Hoyas would have had a chance to pull even closer. And even after completing the play, FGCU hadn't run as much time off the clock as it probably should have.
But it didn't matter. Not today. Not for Brett Comer, Chase Fieler or anyone else dressed in blue and green.
It was the kind of play that said "we're about to beat flippin' Georgetown and we're going to finish this thing however the heck we want to finish it." And they did.
God bless the Madness.
Ohio State's perimeter defense strikes again.
The latest victim: Iona star Lamont "Momo" Jones.
The Arizona transfer was one of the nation's best scorers this year, racking up 23 points a game in the Gael's up-tempo offense. There were even whispers that the small-college star could garner interest from NBA scouts.
And maybe he still will, but not before he figures out how to handle lockdown defenders like Aaron Craft.
The Ohio State guard and his teammates hounded Jones into a 3-of-14 shooting performance, holding the Harlem native to his second-lowest scoring output of the season.
Without Jones pouring in his usual 20, Iona couldn't keep pace and ultimately fell, 95-70.
There are days when the Florida Gators look vulnerable—their offense frazzled, their late-game execution bumbling, their defense panicked.
Then there are days like today, when Billy Donovan's team looks like the best collection of amateur talent on the planet.
What Florida did to Northwestern State in the Round of 64 was a clinic in defensive superiority. The Gators held a team that averages 81 points a game—tops in Division I—to a mere 47.
More impressive still, the Demons manged just 15 points in the second half.
By my count, it had been 72 halves since the last time an opponent held Mike McConathy's team to 15 points or less in a 20-minute session.
But wait...Ohio State beat Iona on Friday.
In fact, the Buckeyes crushed the Gaels, ground 'em into whatever collapsible pieces Gaels can be broken into and sent them back to wherever Gaels originate.
But this slide isn't about Ohio State. It's about the team Ohio State will face in the Round of 32.
Iowa State waxed Notre Dame, 76-58, burying 9-of-21 from three en route to an impressively comfortable win. The scariest thing about it is that the Cyclones' three-point shooting was actually somewhat tame by Iowa State standards.
And when Fred Hoiberg's team does get going from deep, it's about as unstoppable as any offense in the country.
I can't wait to see how the Cyclones match up with an Ohio State defense that denies three-point shots about as well as anyone in the country. Keep an eye on this one for Sunday.
It wasn't easy for Kansas against Western Kentucky on Friday, and perhaps we should've soon something like this coming. There's a reason why Bill Self's team lost to TCU earlier this year and took a beating at Baylor in the regular-season finale: suspect guard play.
And indeed, Kansas' backcourt struggled through large stretches of Friday's game.
But there's also a reason why the Jayhawks earned a No. 1 seed and should continue to be a tough out against the smaller teams they'll face in the early stages of this tournament: Jeff Withey.
The Kansas center is America's premier interior defender, and proved it against the Hilltoppers, swatting seven hots and altering countless others.
You can't count on Kansas' offense game to game, but you can count on the fact that easy buckets will be hard to buy against this team in tournament play.
An additional late-game shout-out goes out to Minnesota's Andre Hollins, who poured in 28 on 5-of-8 three-point shooting to spur the Golden Gophers' upset (in name only) over sixth-seeded UCLA. Consensus had it that Minnesota would blitz the Bruins on the offensive glass, and Tubby Smith's team fared well enough in that department,
But it was Hollins who really shone in Minnesota's 83-63 victory over the the shorthanded Bruins.
It's also worth mentioning from this game that Shabazz Muhammad went 6-of-18 from the field in what was likely his final contest as a collegiate athlete. His last shot was an uncontested layup. He missed it.
For those that missed it yesterday, the following people/teams/entities were named either "winners" or "heroes" in our Day 1 edition.
Michigan State's Bigs
Andrew Smith, Butler
Tekele Cotton, Wichita State
Vander Blue, Marquette
Saint Louis' Defense
D.J. Stephens, Memphis
Dominic Artis, Oregon
Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
Shaka Smart, VCU
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Dorian Green, Colorado State
The Other Michigan Players
For those that missed it yesterday, the following people/teams/entities were named either "losers" or "goats" in our Day 1 edition.
The Billy Donovan UPS Commercial
Mike Muscala, Bucknell
Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh
De'Mon Brooks, Davidson
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's
The NCAA Selection Committee
You, Me and Everyone that Keeps Picking Belmont
Alex Abreu, Akron
Keion Bell, Missouri
The Mountain West
North Carolina A&T