Before we turn our attention to Arkansas Pine-Bluff, why don’t we recap the first 16 games of the tournament slate with the day’s winners and losers. Filled with upsets, overtimes and plenty of late-game dramatics, the past 15 hours have been one of the more memorable NCAA tournament first days in several years. Find out who the big winners and losers were before you watch another 12 hours of college basketball. THIS… IS… MADNESS!!!
WINNER: 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Kentucky didn’t just “land the plane” on Thursday. The Wildcats did 360s in midair, nosedives and put the plane on autopilot before touching down safely. They did the one thing everyone said was their weakness: hit their shots. “If we’re hitting our shots, we bury people,” said Coach Cal. Exactly. Led by Eric Bledsoe, who went 8-9 from three, Kentucky connected on 15 of 33 shots from long range and assisted on 27 of their 31 made field goals. This was a thorough burial of a vastly inferior team by the Wildcats, who were not bitten by the upset bug that seemed to be the theme of the day. Kentucky turned in the best performance of the day, dropping 100 on hapless East Tennessee State.
LOSER: Damion James and Dexter Pittman, 8 TEXAS LONGHORNS
Remember when these two seniors, James, the ferocious rebounder, and Pittman, fatboy-turned-unstoppable-load in the paint, were thought to be the best low-post tandem in the country. Well, they have finally been put out of their misery, not having much say in their 81-80 overtime loss to Wake Forest. A sense of urgency didn’t seem to be in the upperclassmen’s vocabulary, as Texas’ three dynamic freshmen combined to score 48 points. James shot a miserable 4-14 in his last game in burnt orange and clanked a go-ahead free throw at the end of regulation. Actually, don’t blame Damion James…Blame this guy…
WINNER: Ishmael Smith, 9 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS
Talk about a senior who did not want to play his last game. Smith, he of the 17 assists and 23 turnovers in 5 career games against Duke, was incredible with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists and the game-winning fadeaway 18-footer with 1.3 seconds left. Smith began his career as an out-of-control freshman burdened with the unenviable task of replacing Chris Paul. Four years later, he has became a gutsy, tough, calm and clutch leader for the Demon Deacons. We don’t get a stacked round-of-32 matchup between UT and UK, but we do get another matchup to watch: Smith and John Wall going head to head. Speed vs. Speed.
LOSER: Anthony Johnson, 14 MONTANA GRIZZLIES
A bit harsh to pick on someone from a mid-major, especially given Johnson’s incredible made-for-TV-movie story to get to where he is today. But Johnson provided some bulletin-board material for New Mexico earlier in the week by suggesting that the Grizzlies got off easing by drawing the Lobos instead of possibly a Big East team. Maybe he wished he got the Big East team instead. Against New Mexico, he wound up eating his words, going 1-12 from the field and negating an inspired effort by his teammates to become the second 14-seed to win on the day. And isn’t it ironic that the Big East (1-3) performed worse in the day than the Lobos’ conference, the Mountain West (2-2).
WINNER: Quincy Pondexter, 11 WASHINGTON HUSKIES
So the Pac-10 has, and rightfully so, been the punching bag of the Big Six conferences all season. So of course a Pac-10 team beats a team from the former “best conference” in America. In another example of a senior who did not want to play his last game, Pondexter showed those Pac-10 media members and coaches who did not vote him Player of the Year just how much intestinal fortitude he has. After hitting a tough hanging bank shot from the left wing with 1.7 seconds, Pondexter put another dagger into the Big East’s day by sending Marquette back to Milwaukee. Let’s see what response Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle has against Louisville later tonight.
LOSER: 3 GEORGETOWN HOYAS
Well, this was obvious, wasn’t it? I do remember saying during our annihilation at the hands of Georgetown, “This team ain’t SHIT.” Prophetic words, I know. Especially after losses to South Florida, Rutgers and Notre Dame. But OHIO? People hopped back on the Hoya bandwagon after their run to the Big East finals (this writer included, who had them in the Elite Eight), but they completely forgot how to defend. Now Georgetown makes dubious history by becoming the first team seeded 3 or higher to lose by double digits in the first round. Greg Monroe, SHOULD HAVE COME TO DUKE. Maybe you can transfer here so you can learn what it feels like to win in the tournament. Let me know how those workouts for the Wizards go.
WINNER: Armon Bassett and D.J. Cooper, 14 OHIO BOBCATS
And this was just as obvious. These two small dynamos combined for 55 points and 10 three-pointers made, as they consistently shredded Georgetown’s defense. Bassett, a 6’0 sparkplug who transferred from Indiana after the Kelvin Sampson debacle, hit big shot after big shot to answer Hoya runs. And Cooper, a 5’11 freshman southpaw weighing no more than 170 pounds, drove fearlessly into the lane time after time and was able to finish creatively at the rim against the Hoyas size. No one could have predicted this as we all thought Georgetown had cured its mercurial habits.
LOSER: 1 KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Kansas did not really lose anything, and they were never in danger, as they still remain the odds on favorite to make it to the Final Four from the Midwest Regional. However, Lehigh was able to cover the spread, which makes the Jayhawks a loser. Lehigh bust out of the gate, leading 12-4 with 13:25 left in the 1st half. The Jayhawks only recovered to lead by six at the half. Perhaps the pressure of everyone and Obama picking Kansas to win the championship has worn on them. Kansas’ uninspiring performance paled in comparison to the thorough domination by the other 1-seed in action, Kentucky.
WINNER: Danero Roberts, 13 MURRAY STATE RACERS
Roberts’ buzzer-beater is easily the feel good story of the day and has made his Murray State team the early Cinderella darling of the tournament. You know he’ll be in this year’s “One Shining Moment” montage. Receiving a pass with about three seconds left, Roberts dribbled to a spot and pulled up for a fadeaway 19-footer, hitting nothing but net. Watching the second-half of this game, I heard so many audible “Let’s Go Racers” chants. And their fans had good reason to be so confident in their team. The Racers are probably the most balanced team in the tournament, with six players averaging between 9.7 and 10.6 points. Watch out Butler.
LOSER: A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor, 4 VANDERBILT COMMODORES
Ogilvy now has the dubious distinction as someone who has been upset twice at the hands of a 13 seed, having lost to upstart Siena two years ago in the first round. Against a team that had one rotation player taller than 6’7, Vanderbilt’s big men came up small. Ogilvy had only 12 points and 6 rebounds in just 20 minutes while Taylor spent most of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. You had to feel for Ogilvy after he dropped to his knees, devastated. But then again, if you don’t want to get upset, assert yourself and take care of business.
WINNER: 2 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
K-State’s win over North Texas meant that Wildcat teams turned in the two best performances of the day by a top 4 seed. Personally, I didn’t care about this game as I was so immersed in the Vanderbilt-Murray State classic. But it was good to see that parity hadn’t completely gobbled up the tournament by seeing a 2 seed take care of business with ease, something that wasn’t done earlier in the day (more on that later). Syracuse should watch out for K-State, who have the shooters (Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente) and size (Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels) to give them fits.
LOSER: 12 UTEP MINERS
The team that breezed through Conference USA instead ends the season with two consecutive losses. At least this one was to a team worthy of being in the tournament (unlike Houston). However, with a couple of strong 5 seeds in the field (Michigan State and Temple), UTEP was a trendy pick to pull the common 12-5 upset. And that would have led to the ultimate Cinderella 12 vs. 13 matchup against Murray State, a favorite of mine. Yeah, I’m just ticked because I picked UTEP to be in the Sweet 16, but I’m writing this column. Instead, Butler extended its winning streak to 21 games, as its three point shooting completely overwhelmed the Miners.
WINNER: Michael Loyd Jr., 7 BYU COUGARS
Some people know about Jimmer Fredette, the 6-2 gunner on BYU who dropped 37 to finally drop Florida in double OT. But there’s no way anyway outside of Provo, Utah knows who Michael Loyd is. Michael Loyd, who averages 4.6 points on the season? As much as Fredette did to help the Cougars win, I’m sure he’d tell you this victory would not have come without Loyd’s coming-out party. Loyd actually got some experience against New Mexico earlier this season when Fredette sat out the second half due to sickness. Against the Gators, the 6’1 sophomore guard poured in a career-high 26 points to help his team advance to play Kansas State.
WINNER: Omar Samhan, 10 SAINT MARY’S GAELS
This Samhan is a man. The 6’11, 260-pound beast completely dominated Richmond on the interior. Thanks to his 29 points and 12 rebounds, the Gaels outrebounded the Spiders 39-16. That is a ridiculous number, as in Samhan grabbed almost as many boards as the entire opposing team. He not only forced the issue all day in the paint but also got open looks for St. Mary’s shooters such as Mickey McConnell, who contributed 23 points. You will be seeing Samhan on an NBA team in the near future. He is that damn good.
LOSER: Luke Harangody, 6 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Digger Phelps must be sick to his stomach right now. Who had Notre Dame in the Sweet 16? Not me. I called those Patties ridiculously overseeded and they were; this wasn’t an upset either.. Old Dominion did beat Georgetown earlier in the season (not as impressive anymore), but they were also a statistically better team than the Fighting Irish. Nothing epitomizes the bad luck of the Irish more than Harangody, the former Big East Player of the Year who ended his career with just 4 points and 7 rebounds. What’s interesting is that Notre Dame played its best basketball of the year without big ol’ Luke. His NBA stock is looking reeeeal good right now.
WINNER: Ekpe Udoh, 3 BAYLOR BEARS
Who the hell said there were no NBA lottery picks in the South region? Although Baylor wasn’t really impressive at all in its win, Udoh certainly was. And I cut Baylor some slack because this was its first tournament win in about a half-century. So it has been a while. Udoh went for 20 points, 13 boards, 2 blocks and even threw in 5 dimes. Baylor looks like a team that can certainly give Villanova fits in the Elite Eight. Maybe St. Mary’s upsets Nova and we get Udoh vs. Samhan in the Sweet 16? What a matchup that would be.
LOSER: Scottie Reynolds, 2 VILLANOVA WILDCATS
I’ve been taking as many potshots as I can on the Big East. Case in point: it took Scottie Reynolds and his army of zebras to turn away Robert Morris’ upset bid and save the Big East from utter humiliation. Reynolds shot an atrocious 2-15 from the field (although one three was big at the end of OT), but took 16 free throws on the day. These Wildcats, unlike Kentucky and Kansas State, limped to the finish and Villanova did nothing in this game to change the perception that it was the weakest 2 seed in the field. Which takes me to one final winner on the day…
WINNER: 1 DUKE BLUE DEVILS
How, you say, do we win by not even playing? Because of the complete carnage that you see on the battlefield that is the South Regional. So originally everyone had the South as the weakest bracket in the field, let by the crummiest 2 seed in Villanova. Then the trendy Final Four pick Baylor has trouble putting away Sam Houston State and both 6 and 7 seeded teams, who many thought were already overseeded, fell. 4 seed Purdue is still smarting from injuries, I believe, and remains a popular choice to be upset by Siena. I hope karma doesn’t bite me in the ass from all the shots I took at the Big East if we have to play Louisville in the round of 32. Everyone may be cowering right now, but they won’t be when they play Duke. Nonetheless, like I said before, there are NO excuses if we do not make the Final Four this year.
Same time tomorrow, folks.
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