NCAA Tournament: Round One Recap

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

March Madness Preview

With the NCAA Tournament kicking off on Thursday, I took some time this afternoon to chat with Aaron Torres about  first-round matchups he’s excited to watch, what high seeds could be booted early from the tournament, what teams are over or under-rated, how Kentucky’s lack of experience in the Tournament will play out and if Texas can regain the form that helped them start the season  17-0.

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March Madness Prize Package From Coke Zero

Look, I know the incentive to join the Hoops Addict March Madness Pool was  slim since only bragging rights were on the line. So, to up the ante, we’ve partnered with Coke Zero to give prize packages to the people who finish first and second in the pool.

The prize package will include a Coke Zero fleece jacket, cap, and a water bottle.

Right now there are only 10 people registered in the pool so you’re odds of winning a prize package are pretty good.

Why are they helping us out? Because they want my help in spreading the word about Coke Zero’s unique program called Dept. of Fannovation.

Coke Zero challenged fans the last few months to think of ways to improve the NCAA fan experience by submitting ideas to the Dept. of Fannovation for a shot at $10,000 and a trip to the 2011 NCAA Final Four. The top 64 ideas have been chosen, and fans can head over now to www.cocacolazero.com/ncaa to vote for their favorites in the “Coca-Cola Zero Brain Bracket Championship” — a survive and advance tournament similar in format to the NCAA one.

Unfortunately this giveaway is limited to residents of the US and Canada. Sorry.

Click this link to join the Hoops Addict March Madness Pool on Yahoo! Sports.

Even though the prize was provided by The Coca-Cola Company, the Coca-Cola Company is not a sponsor, administrator or connected in any other way with this giveaway.

Six Players To Watch In The NCAA Tournament

Coming into the NCAA Tournament, we all know the names of the biggest game-changers in college basketball are John Wall, Evan Turner and Sherron. But what about everybody else? What about the guys who weren’t All-Americans this year? You need to know about them too.

Which is why Hoops Addict has identified a group of six players you need to get to know and watch out for, as we head into the 2010 NCAA Tournament:

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: Don’t worry, I already know what you’re thinking: How can a guy who is very likely going to be a top five NBA Draft pick, a player we should watch out for? Well, if you watched Georgia Tech at all this year, you know that the Jackets did anything but look out for their biggest, baddest player. And it almost cost them a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s because through the regular season, Favors was almost an afterthought on his own team, as he averaged just 12 points and less than eight shot attempts per game. In a related story, the Yellow Jackets limped to a 19-11 regular season record.

Once the ACC Tournament started Favors was a different man, as he averaged over 17 points a game, and Georgia Tech beat North Carolina, Maryland and NC State before ultimately losing to Duke in the conference finals.

Look, it’s pretty simple really. If the Yellow Jackets get the ball to their big guy these next few weeks, there aren’t many who can stop Favors, or the Yellow Jackets for that matter.

But if they don’t? Well, there might not be much madness in their March. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Jon, Leuer, Wisconsin: As hard as it is to believe, Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball over the last decade or so, winning 20 or more games in every year but one since 2003. And in the one year they didn’t, they “only,” got to 19 wins and the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, Coach Bo Ryan knows how to evaluate talent and coach it up.

Well this year, he’s got a pretty special big man in Leuer.

Leuer stands at 6’10 and while not overly athletic, is a smart player, with a nice soft touch around the basket. Which is the biggest reason he finished second on the Badgers in scoring this season, averaging just under 15 points a game.

And after coming back fro a midseason injury, Leuer is just starting to regain his early season form. He’s now scored in double figures in each of the last five games, with Wisconsin going 4-1 over that time frame.

Expect a still improving Leuer to be a headache for opponents all NCAA Tournament long.

Lazar Hayward, Marquette: Watch Marquette enough and you might start to ask yourself, “What am I missing?” They’re not that big, physical or overly athletic, and just don’t seem like they should be as good as their 22-11 record would indicate they are. Only, well, they are that good. And there’s no bigger reason for their success than Hayward.

Like the rest of him teammates, if you were lining Hayward up next to his opponent, he wouldn’t just out at you, but just watch the Golden Eagles 6’6″ power forward. The kid can play.

Hayward was Marquette’s leading scorer (18.1 points a game) and rebounder (7.7) and shot 43 percent from the field, all while facing the opponent’s best low post defender. He’s also gritty and tough, and it was his play that led the Golden Eagles to their fifth place finish in the rugged Big East.

Again, if you pick the Golden Eagles in your bracket, don’t expect to be overwhelmed the first time you lay eyes on Hayward (Honestly, seeing him with his headband and beard, he looks like a 6’6 version of Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. All he’s only missing the kiss tattoo on his neck), but by the end of the game, not only will he be your favorite Marquette player, you’ll probably be looking to buy his replica jersey off Eastbay too.

Either way, the Golden Eagles will make some noise in this tournament, and no one will play a bigger role, than their most important player.

Donald Sloan, Texas A&M: Much like Marquette, if you just caught Texas A&M in passing at any point this season you probably weren’t overwhelmed; they’re the type of team that does everything good, but nothing great. At the same time though, let’s be honest, the Aggies didn’t finish fourth in college basketball’s toughest conference by accident. But as good as Texas A&M is (and believe me they’re good), they would have been a lot closer to the bottom of the Big XII without Sloan.

What makes Sloan so special is his consistency. He never seems to force his offense, yet he’s still scored in double-figures in every game but one since…wait for it…wait for it… The last week of November! Not too shabby huh? What makes Sloan’s feat even more impressive is that the Aggies haven’t had their second leading scorer- Derrick Roland- since right around New Year’s.

Again, Sloan isn’t a name you’re probably familiar with, but you better get to know it quick. Before it’s too late, and he’s knocked your favorite team out of the Big Dance.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Jimmer Fredette? Sounds more like the lead singer of the house band at your favorite local pub than a basketball player right? He actually looks the part too. But get him on the court, and the kid is a stone-cold assassin.

The 6’2 guard from Glen Falls, NY (How’d he end up out in Provo, Utah? Your guess is as good as mine), led the Mountain West with a 21.4 points a game average, while at the same time leading BYU with close to five dimes a game too. More importantly, he saved his best performances for the Cougars biggest games, as he dropped 45 and 30 on back-to-back nights in the Mountain West Tournament.

While BYU ultimately lost to UNLV in the conference semifinals, make no mistake, they will make noise come this NCAA Tournament. And that noise will come from the unlikeliest source: The one man house band himself, Jimmer Fredette.

Johnathan Jones, Oakland: Want a deep, deep sleeper who could blow up on your radar this 2010 NCAA Tournament? Well head out West…well not that far West…but to Oakland, MI, where one of college basketball’s most underrated point guards plays, Johnathan Jones of Oakland University.

Jones is a coaches dream (unless you’re the opposing coach, then he’s more like a nightmare), an experienced floor leader that gets more joy out of setting up his teammates than getting his own points. Jones finished third in college basketball in assists this year averaging 6.4 a game, which wouldn’t be all that bad, except well, he averaged over eight a game a year ago to lead college basketball. Add in over 12 points a game, and you’re looking at one of the best floor generals in college basketball, regardless of school.

Oakland comes into this tournament having won 20 of their last 21 games dating all the way back to the end of December, and won’t lay down to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And if they do win, look for the smallest guy on the court to have the biggest impact.

For the best coverage of the NCAA Tournament, be sure to check back at HOOPSADDICT.com all March long. To read all of Aaron’s work, please visit him at his own personal site, www.aarontorres-sports.com and follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

Selection Sunday Chat

Hey college basketball fans!

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time for the one of the best sporting events on the calendar. That’s right, it’s time for March Madness and the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

This year, before you fill out your brackets and enter your office pools, make sure you’re prepared.  This Sunday – Selection Sunday for the NCAA’s 65 teams – Hoops Addict editor Ryan McNeill will be joined by Hoops Addict college basketball writer Aaron Torres for a live chat leading up to and during the announcement of the field at 6 p.m. EST.

Join Ryan and Aaron as they take your questions on the teams and players that will pull off the biggest upsets and make it all the way to the Final Four and beyond.

So to the Hoops Addict community, the invitation has been extended to you to come talk some college basketball this Sunday evening, starting at 5:30. We’ll see you there!