“It is an outrage that VCU is in the tournament over (insert major conference team here)” – Every College Basketball Analyst Everywhere.
Um, you guys are all fired. The Rams have been outstanding so far, more than justifying their selection. VCU is the only team to play three games thus far in the tournament, and has beaten USC, Georgetown and Purdue. On Sunday night the Rams utterly embarrassed the Boilers to reach the Sweet 16, becoming the first team ever from “the First Four” to reach the tournament’s second weekend.
After VCU lost the CAA title game to Old Dominion, a friend told me that it was a shame because the Rams were a really good team and wouldn’t make it in to the tournament. I should have believed him. Led by Jamie Skeen, Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozzell, VCU has proved virtually everyone wrong. Nice going boys.
Despite not having Willie Veasley and Gordon Hayward, the Butler Bulldogs continue to amazing. After a miracle run to the championship game last year, most figured Butler would be undone by unfavorable seeding. They faced a very good Old Dominion team in the first round (and escaped on a last-second shot) then went toe-to-toe with the Southeast’s No. 1 seed, Pitt. Though it took a wild finish to get Butler through to the Sweet 16, would you bet against them now?
Junior guard Shelvin Mack and senior forward Matt Howard continue to amaze, and the team-first attitude of the Bulldogs and coach Brad Stevens is paying off big time.
Marquette and Buzz Williams
After getting stomped by Louisville 81-56 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, and finishing the season with 14 losses, the Marquette Golden Eagles were given the 11 seed in the East. Then came the rumors that beloved head coach Buzz Williams was the top choice to be the next coach at Oklahoma.
All year we’ve heard all about how the Ohio State Buckeyes are the most perfectly balanced team in the nation and could easily walk to an NCAA title for the first time since 1960, when the team featured (among others) John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight. Well, so far so good. The Buckeyes blasted Texas-San Antonio 75-46 in the first round and destroyed a solid George Mason team 98-66 in the second. The Buckeyes face the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16, and despite Kentucky’s ridiculous level of talent, it’s hard to see anyone beating the Buckeyes right now.
After falling to San Diego State in the Mountain West championship game Jimmer Fredette’s BYU Cougars looked vulnerable. Maybe they were relying far too much on Jimmer’s ability to win games. Well, that proved to be a good strategy in rounds one and two. Fredette dropped 32 against Wofford in a 74-66 opening round win, then racked up 34 in an 89-67 second round win over a solid Gonzaga squad. Those who think Fredette is just a ball-hogging shooter have been proved wrong over the past few days as he’s done everything he could to get his teammates involved.
But, another thing that hasn’t been oversold is the way in which Fredette complains about calls. I mean holy crap the kid is on the refs almost constantly. Yes, he gets fouled a lot, but come on Jimmer, relax a bit, you get a ton of calls as it is.
Entering the season North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes was touted as the presumptive No. 1 pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Though Barnes struggled for most of the season, he has come on recently and started to live up to that hype. In the first two games of this year’s tournament it has been easy to see what scouts love about him.
In an opening round win over LIU, Barnes had 24 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Sunday against Washington the freshman nailed a clutch 3-pointer with 4:04 to go that gave North Carolina the lead for good at 78-76. He finished the game with 22 points and is obviously only scratching the surface of his ability. The Tar Heels are seriously dangerous because they have Barnes on their side.
San Diego State
Anyone who watched the San Diego State Aztecs play this year knows that at times they get ragged, but in the end almost always find a way to win. Well, in the first round the No. 2 seed in the West just couldn’t shake Northern Colorado for almost 25 minutes, before they routed the Bears 68-50. Then, it took two overtimes for the Aztecs to finally dispatch a scrappy Temple team.
The Aztecs rely on a combination of ferocious defense, rebounding and an extremely athletic frontcourt to get things done. Those three things showed up at the right time in both games.
For the third time in four years, the Vanderbilt Commodores bowed out of the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing to a huge underdog. In 2008, the fourth-seeded Commodores lost to 13th seeded Siena. In 2010 Vandy was again a four seed and fell to another 13-seed in Murray State. This year Kevin Stallings’ team was generously given a five-seed and promptly lost to the 12th seeded Richmond Spiders.
So when, exactly is Vandy going to live up to its potential?
The Big East
Where to start…The people defending the Big East today should just stop and let it go. The conference that got 11 teams into the tournament, now only has two in the Sweet 16. Those two teams – Marquette and UConn – were seeded 11th and ninth respectively in the Big East tournament. Pitt was disappointing as always, Louisville proved it wasn’t as good as its record, Syracuse never seems to play up to its talent level and Notre Dame was show to be nothing but an overachiever.
The Big East finished 7-4 in the opening round and 2-5 in the second round. So the “mightiest conference” that was pounding its chest last Sunday is just 9-9 so far in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
Really Boilers? Really? After all that talk about how this team was rebounding to be a Final Four contender even without the injured Robbie Hummel this is how you end your season? With the Big Ten Player of the Year (JaJuan Johnson) and another First Team All-Big Ten selection (E’Twaun Moore) in their senior seasons, you don’t win a game in the Big Ten tournament, then get blown out by an 11-seed that most people thought shouldn’t even be in the NCAA tournament? Really?
I would say that it’s sad to see two guys who topped the 1,900-point mark in their careers and were model citizens like Johnson and Moore end their careers in such a way, but I would totally be lying. It’s actually hilarious.