After an exciting opening round of the NCAA Tournament, it seemed all but impossible that the excitement could be topped when Round 2 tipped off on Saturday. Only it was was.
Here are the bet and brightest, that the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament had to offer.
Best Game: Northern Iowa-Kansas
No if’s, and’s or but’s about it, this one was the best game of the weekend by far.
Northern Iowa and Kansas had everything you could ever want from an NCAA Tournament game: A small school going up against one of college basketball’s established powers; As much excitement and tension as any game in recent memory (was anyone on the edge of their seat for just about the last 10 minutes of this game? Because I sure was); A great comeback from a championship caliber team; And ultimately the most shocking result of this young tournament.
But here’s the question: How big of an upset was this really? Remember, Northern Iowa returned five starters off a team that played in the NCAA Tournament last year, narrowly losing to Purdue in the First Round. They had the No. 2 scoring defense in college basketball this year, allowing only 54 points a game. And they went 28-4 during the regular season, and won their final three games before the tournament by at least 15 points.
This one may have an upset to you and me (and made us rip up our brackets in the process). Just don’t tell the kids from Northern Iowa this one was an upset. They won’t believe it.
Best Team Performance of the Weekend: Cornell
We touched on this one a little in the First Round recap, but it’s worth repeating. The Big Red were nothing short of phenomenal this weekend, blitzing two teams that’d been ranked in the top 25 all year. And like Northern Iowa, watching them play, it was the Big Red, not their opponents who seemed to think that they were the favorites.
With two wins under their belts, Cornell goes to Syracuse this weekend to take on Kentucky, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.
Has there ever been a matchup between two teams that are so seemingly different?
Best Individual Performance: Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s
Samhan was nothing short of spectacular against Villanova on Saturday, scoring 32 points and grabbing seven rebounds, just two days after toasting Richmond for 27 and 11. Not bad for a guy that few had heard of just a week ago.
In the process, Samhan displayed every trait that NBA General Manager’s drool over when evaluating big men: Quick feet, soft hands, a softer touch around the hoop, and the ability to pass out of the low post.
With St. Mary’s heading to Houston to take on Baylor this weekend, Samhan has at least one more game before his college career is over. But he’s also got the beginnings of what looks to be a bright professional future as well.
Best Coaching Performance: John Calipari, Kentucky
Whether you love or hate Calipari (and outside of Kentucky those feelings are definitely mixed), no coach out there knows how to get players to perform this time of year quite like he does. I guess it makes sense that 2010 marks the fifth straight year a Calipari coached team has reached the Sweet 16, with his clubs reaching the Elite Eight or beyond in 2006, 2007 and 2008 as well.
And after two wins by a combined 59 points over the weekend, Calipari’s ‘Cats are just starting to roll.
After their victory Saturday, Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio had this to say about Coach Calipari’s crew: “I’ve been in the ACC for 10 years. That’s (Kentucky) as good a basketball team as we played against in the 10 years I’ve been here.
Well that’s certainly not the kind of praise you hear from the opposition very often. But then again, when your John Calipari at this time of the year, you’re probably used to it.
Worst Coaching Performance: Jay Wright, Villanova
Look its hard not to love what Jay Wright has done during his time at Villanova, as no one does more with less than he does.
But Wright just didn’t have his best showing Saturday against St. Mary’s. And truthfully, anyone who saw the Wildcats opener against Robert Morris knows that Villanova could have (and maybe should have) lost that game too.
But here’s the bigger question about Villanova’s stink bomb Saturday afternoon: How did Scottie Reynolds (84 percent foul shooter) and Corey Fisher (77 percent foul shooter), only combine to shoot five free throws the entire game. Even more embarrassingly, why did they continue to shoot from the perimeter, as the two went just 5 for 24 from the field?
I have a feeling those are questions that Wright will be asking himself for a very, very long time.
Five More Teams That Are Rolling Into The Sweet 16:
Syracuse: Arinze who? The Orange made HSBC Arena in Buffalo their personal boxing ring, as they beat both Vermont and Gonzaga to a pulp, on their way to the Sweet 16. Imagine what they’ll be like when they do get Arinze Onuaku- their starting center- back in the lineup this weekend? Can someone say, Final Four?
Kansas State: Another set of Wildcats (is every team nicknamed the Wildcats in this tournament?) got physical with BYU and put them away late, thanks in a big way to Jacob Pullen’s 34 points. This season marks Kansas State’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since all the way back in 1988, a year when several of their current players weren’t even born.
Washington: Finally (finally!) the Huskies look like the team that everyone had in their preseason top 15. The truth is, if Washington keeps playing the way they have in their opening two rounds, West Virginia could be their latest upset victim this weekend.
Tennessee: All hail Bruce Pearl. It seems like every time we begin to doubt the Tennessee coach, he comes up even bigger and better than we could have ever imagined. Forget the Volunteers victories over Kansas and Kentucky this season, Tennessee had their biggest win Saturday, when they advanced to their third Sweet 16 in four years. Who says Tennessee is just a “football school?”
Baylor: Remember everyone’s favorite dark horse team to make it to the Final Four? Well amidst all the chaos on Saturday, the Bears quietly advanced to their first Sweet 16 in school history. Is their first ever Elite Eight in the immediate future too?
Five More Players Who Deserve Some Praise:
Wes Johnson, Syracuse: Yes, he was the Big East Player of the Year, but Johnson saved his best performance of 2010 for Sunday’s victory over Gonzaga, when he scored 31 points and added 14 rebounds. Johnson was already considered an elite NBA prospect, but now that pro stock seems to be going through the roof.
Korie Lucious, Michigan State: Who needs Kalin Lucas, when you’ve got Korie Lucious? The low scoring sophomore hit the biggest shot of his Michigan State career Sunday, a game-winning, 3-pointer at the buzzer to propel the Spartans to a victory over Maryland. With Lucas expected to be out this weekend and beyond, this might not be the last time we hear Lucious’ name.
Chris Kramer, Purdue: Apparently Kramer got quite offended about being labeled a defensive player. The 6’3 senior scored 17 points in Purdue’s overtime victory over Texas A&M Sunday, extending his career in West Lafayette at least one game. Purdue will face off with Duke this weekend.
Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky: Don’t sleep on Kentucky’s other…other…freshman. The Wildcats fourth leading scorer on the season has never played better than he did this weekend, when he scored 29 points in the Wildcats opener, followed by a 13 point, five assist performance Saturday.
Ronald Nored, Butler: For all the talk about Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, it was Nored who came through the biggest for the Bulldogs in their Second Round victory over Murray State. He scored 15 points and had six assists, not to mention a three point play in the final seconds, which sealed the victory.
Check back to HoopsAddict.com on Wednesday, as we reveal the Five Biggest Questions Heading into the Sweet 16.
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