The Best And Worst Of The NCAA Tournament’s Opening Weekend

March 21, 2011 – 1:47 am by Ryan Phillips

Biggest Surprises:
Virginia Commonwealth
“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.

Butler Bulldogs
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.

None of that seemed to bother the Golden Eagles too much as they smoked Xavier 66-55 in the first round, and outlasted third-seeded Syracuse 66-62 to reach the Sweet 16.

As Advertised:
Ohio State
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.

Jimmer Fredette
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.

Harrison Barnes
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.

Biggest Disappointments:
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.

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  1. 9 Responses to “The Best And Worst Of The NCAA Tournament’s Opening Weekend”

  2. Isn’t Connecticut a 3 seed? Or are you talking about their Big East seeding?

    I would say I am disappointed in Notre Dame, but that’s pretty much exactly what I expected them to do. I just expected them to do it against Akron instead of Florida State…

    As for the rest…yeesh. Richmond, Virginia is a better hotbed for college basketball than the entirety of the Big East. And Butler, once again, proves that it’s the class of Indiana when it comes to basketball. It’s going to be fun listening to butthurt NC State fans whining when Brad Stevens turns them down.

    By MJenks on Mar 21, 2011

  3. MJ,
    With the seeding issue my point is that the top-seeded teams from the Big East tournament (or the most hyped teams during the season) all bowed out early.

    And no, Brad Stevens won’t be going anywhere.

    By Phillips on Mar 21, 2011

  4. MJ,
    After re-reading I totally see what you were saying. Wrote this late-night and that definitely wasn’t clear. Fixed it now. Yeah I was referring to their Big East tournament seeds.

    By Phillips on Mar 21, 2011

  5. I figured out what you meant. I was just confused this morning.

    Curiously, the two names that the NC State fans keep bringing up are Stevens and Bob Knight. I’m personally hoping for a meltdown like the last time they tried to find a coach. Hopefully, they’ll end up with Jeff Capel or someone like that.

    By MJenks on Mar 21, 2011

  6. I completely agree with everything here the part about VCU.

    Ya they’ve been great in the tournament and they certainly should have earned everyone’s respect.

    But it still doesn’t justify them making into the the tournament. I know it seems unfair but lets say for example, ASU somehow made it to the tournament. People would go crazy because they suck and don’t deserve to be in it.

    And then they go in and win 3 games in a row. Does winning the 3 games and upsetting 3 teams really justify them making it in the first place? Not really, but it proves that it’s a little easier when you’re the under dog in every game.

    By Thomas on Mar 21, 2011

  7. Thomas,
    I guess the real point is that every year there are teams you could argue don’t belong and do belong. Someone is always going to get screwed. Singling out one team and expressing all kinds of rage about it is really dumb. Why? Because then VCU happens. Can we really argue decisively that USC deserved to be in more than VCU? No one was complaining that the Trojans were in over Colorado or Virginia Tech, etc.

    I rarely ever complain about teams getting snubbed for that reason alone. Typically there are about five teams that are borderline and get in and there are about five who are borderline and are left out. This year it seemed like everyone just focused all their rage on VCU. I say good for the Rams.

    By Phillips on Mar 21, 2011

  8. What No Fredette Fever,
    Frankly, it drive’s me nuts to see a 6’2″ guy dominating everyone, in spite of not being that quick. He is an amazing player. He has DEMANDED double and triple teams for his sick shooting range and court awareness. Coaches are saying things like, “I know this sounds crazy, but in spite of him scoring 34 points, I thought we contained him pretty well.” If you have ever played basketball you know they are all out to prove shomething and hacking the heck out of the little troll. You have to give him credit and admit he is fouled more frequently than not, but in games like the MW semifinal goes off for 54 points and how many times did he go to the line????
    Just saying, his style of play is to take advantage of body position, draw the foul, and score with some change. He does it well, but when the trees are swatting the ball and taking a piece of scalp with it, I would be complaining too.
    Go VCU!

    By Steve on Mar 21, 2011

  9. I’m not even a Purdue fan and I would have to say you went pretty hard on them there. When you have a main stay such as Kelcey Barlow in your line up who gets kicked off the team before the tournament starts for violating the teams code of conduct something might get thrown off there. And all of talk about a final four run really originated when they thought they would have Robbie Hummel healthy for his senior season. That proved to not be the case when he tore his acl… Again! Every one here is talking about how well VCU is playing so you would have to admit they did get beat by a good team.

    By Kyle on Mar 22, 2011

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