The first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament is officially in the books, with the action coming to an end late Friday night, as Maryland beat Houston.
But from the opening tip of Thursday’s games, fans were treated to some of the most exciting college basketball action in modern tournament history, as 11 of the 32 games were decided by five points or less, with three going into overtime.
Let’s take a look back now, at the good and bad, pretty and ugly and everything in between in Round 1.
The Biggest Winner: The Fans
Experts are calling Thursday’s opening day the best in the history of the tournament, and it’s hard to disagree, as several games came right down to the wire, and two of the first three needed extra time to decide them.
Amongst the highlights were BYU’s double overtime win over Florida, Robert Morris’ near shocker of Villanova, Murray State’s buzzer beating win against Vanderbilt and much more, including higher seeded teams like Wisconsin and Tennessee holding on for dear life.
The Most Surprising Team…In A Good Way: Ohio
Wow. What else can you say, but wow? Not just because Ohio beat everyone’s favorite dark horse Final Four team in Georgetown- a team with three or four future NBA players- but because of the way they did it.
Ohio not only won Thursday night, they absolutely dominated the Hoyas from the opening tip-off. They shot an incredible 58 percent from the field, 56 percent from three (13 of 23) and 77 percent from the foul line, turning a game in which they were big underdogs, into a laugher late in the second half. Not only did the Bobcats beat Georgetown, they embarrassed them by 14 points.
The story of the game was the play of Indiana transfer Armon Bassett who finished with 32 points as well as his teammate and point guard D.J. Cooper, who tallied 23 points and eight assists.
This all, by the way, from an Ohio team who finished ninth in the MAC regular season standings, never won more than two games in a row between Christmas and March, and needed a conference tournament run just to be in the NCAA Tournament.
I guess there really is a reason they call this tournament March Madness.
The Most Surprising Team… In A Bad Way: Villanova
Yes, they won, which is more than a lot of other higher seeded teams can claim. But, what a truly disappointing effort, from a team that is one of the most experienced in the tournament.
The Wildcats played their opening round game against Robert Morris, lethargic, lazy and disinterested, and needed some spotty officiating down the stretch to get out of their opener with a win (I have my opinions on all this, but I’ll save it for another day). And to make matters worse, Villanova’s two best players- and supposed leaders- Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, were benched to start the game, for what Coach Jay Wright deemed, “Minor Teaching Points.” Whatever that means.
Regardless, hopefully Thursday was the wake up call Villanova needed. Because if they play on Saturday against St. Mary’s like they did Thursday, it’s going to be a short March stay for the Wildcats.
Best Coaching Job: Steve Donahue, Cornell
You could make a case for any number of guys: Ohio’s John Groyce, Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor, even Robert Morris’ Mike Trice in defeat. But today, we’re giving the edge to Steve Donahue at Cornell, who not only beat Temple, but beat his former mentor too, Owls coach Fran Dunphy.
What made Cornell’s win so surprising, was the ease with which they made it look. The Big Red jumped out to an early lead against Temple, and never let them get comfortable. They were more prepared, got to every loose ball, and just seemed better on offense and defense than Temple. Basically, if you took an average basketball fan who knew nothing about these two teams, they’d have thought Cornell was the No. 5 seed and Temple the plucky underdog.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how Cornell matches up with a struggling Wisconsin team on Sunday, and to see if they can pull another upset against the Badgers. Then again, with the way they played Friday, would it really even be an upset?
Worst Coaching Job: Rick Barnes, Texas
I know Barnes had to deal with some injury issues this year, but still. There might not be a single coach who routinely gets less out of his talent annually than Barnes does.
Watching Texas’ game against Wake Forest, the Longhorns not only looked ill-prepared, but at times, like they were on another planet, as Wake point guard Ish Smith sliced and diced them, ending the game with a near triple double (19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists).
Even when Texas did put together a comeback to force overtime, they squandered an eight point lead in the extra period, and missed crucial foul shots down the stretch to lose.
It was another short March in Austin, a trend that is becoming all too routine this time of year. And after awhile, it’s hard to blame the guys on the court.
Stars of Round 1:
Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Hoops Addict told you to watch out for Fredette, and he obliged, putting up 37 points on 13-26 shooting in BYU’s double overtime victory over Florida.
It’ll be interesting to see what he has in store Saturday afternoon, as the Cougars take on Kansas State, a team that you know will be happy to run up and down and make this a high-scoring game. This one will be nothing, if not entertaining.
Indiana Transfers: We already mentioned Armon Bassett’s heroics for Ohio against Georgetown, but what about his former teammate Jordan Crawford? Crawford scored 28 points, and added six rebounds and five assists in Xavier’s victory over Minnesota Friday afternoon.
With Bassett and Crawford shining this March, we’ve got to ask ourselves: What kind of dynasty could Kelvin Sampson be putting together at Indiana right now? If only he could keep his phone dialing fingers to himself…
Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s: Samhan looked like a man against boys on Thursday against Richmond, as the St. Mary’s center had the easiest 29 point and 11 rebound performance you’ll ever see. What made the whole thing even more impressive was that he did it in just 28 minutes because of foul trouble.
Maybe more importantly, Samhan poses a huge (Pun definitely intended) problem for Villanova on Saturday afternoon. The one thing Villanova simply cannot account for is a big guy who can score, and Samhan most certainly fits that bill.
Could St. Mary’s be in store for another shocker Saturday?
Ish Smith, Wake Forest: We already mentioned it, but it’s worth repeating, 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Never a bad line for a 5’11 point guard. Right?
John Calipari, Kentucky Coach: Whether you love or hate Calipari (and believe me, there are plenty of people on both sides of that fence), you can’t deny that there isn’t a coach who has his team better prepared this time of year.
In his last four years at Memphis, Calipari’s resume looked like this:
Elite Eight in 2006
Elite Eight in 2007
National Championship Game Runner-Up in 2008
Sweet 16 in 2009
And his Kentucky team opened this tournament with maybe the most impressive opening round performance of all, a 100-71 beat down of hopeless and hapless East Tennessee State.
There’s still a lot of time between now and the National Championship game in early April. But could this year finally be Calipari’s one shining moment?
Running Down Ten Second Round Games, In Two Sentences Or Less:
No. 10 St. Mary’s vs. No. 2 Villanova, Saturday, 1:05 p.m.: If both teams play the way they did Thursday (St. Mary’s great, Villanova not so much), we could be in line for the first upset of the second round, just one game in.
No. 9 Northern Iowa vs. No. 1 Kansas, Saturday, 5:40 p.m.: The nation’s No. 2 scoring defense (Northern Iowa) goes against college basketball’s No. 1 overall team. This one culd be closer than you think.
No. 11 Washington vs. No. 3 New Mexico, Saturday, 5:50 p.m.: Despite the seeding, Washington actually comes into this game as the favorite, after their victory over Marquette Saturday. Guess the Pac-10 wasn’t so bad after-all, huh?
No. 7 BYU vs. No. 2 Kansas State, Saturday, 8:10 p.m.: Set the TIVO, because a trio of great guards (Fredette, Kansas State’s Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen) could make this one an instant classic.
No. 9 Wake Forest vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.: A lot of brackets could be busted if Kentucky were to lose here. John Wall vs. Ish Smith is worth the price of admission alone.
No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Syracuse, Sunday, 12:15 p.m.: Gonzaga’s got the scorers inside to beat Syracuse, especially if the Orange are still without Arinze Onuaku. But the start time sure doesn’t help Gonzaga (9:15 A.M. Spokane time).
No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 2 Ohio State, Sunday, 2:20 p.m.: Georgia Tech’s size and length could keep this one close right down to the wire. Don’t be shocked by an upset here.
No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, Sunday, 2:50 p.m.: Similar to Villanova and St. Mary’s. If these two teams both play the way they did Friday, Cornell will be Sweet 16 bound.
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh, Sunday, 4:50 p.m.: An absolute street fight between two, tough, physical teams. Question: Why didn’t anyone talk me out of my Oakland over Pittsburgh upset pick?
No. 8 California vs. No. 1 Duke, Sunday, 5:15 p.m.: Could the weekend end with No. 1 seed packing its bags and headed home? Nahhh…
To read all of Aaron’s additional work, make sure to stop by his site, www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his opinions on all things sports, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres