Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

College Sports

Lessons learned from the first weekend

After four days of scintillating college hoops action, we've cut down the NCAA tournament field to 16 teams with only two weeks left to play in the 2009-10 season. Here are 10 things we learned from the first weekend of this year's Big Dance.

10. Upsets everywhere

If your bracket hasn't been completely shattered by now, then you know a lot more about college basketball than the rest of us. In the first four days of action, we saw it all. A No. 14 seed (Ohio) pummeling a No. 3 seed (Georgetown). A No. 13 seed (Murray State) stunning a No. 4 seed (Vanderbilt) at the buzzer. A No. 12 seed (Cornell) running past a No. 5 seed (Temple). A No. 10 seed (Saint Mary's) upsetting a No. 2 seed (Villanova). But best of all, a No. 9 seed (Northern Iowa) shocking the top overall seed (Kansas). That's a lot more than you can say about last year's tournament, which had no earth-shattering upsets in the first weekend and left the preseason favorite cutting down the nets in the end.

9. Orange better get healthy

Syracuse may have steamrolled Gonzaga three hours from home in its second-round matchup, but the Orange won't be playing after the second weekend if they don't have a healthy Arinze Onuaku on the floor. The senior big man, in fact, is a must-have for Jim Boeheim if he hopes to return to the Final Four for a chance at a second national title. That means winning two games this week in Salt Lake City, starting Thursday with fifth-seeded Butler and potentially meeting either No. 2 seed Kansas State or No. 6 seed Xavier in the West regional final on Saturday.

8. The Left Coast can play

College basketball on the West Coast is better than you might think. While the Big East relished in the national spotlight for most of the season, largely due to the conference's television contract, the Pac-10 got little to no respect, often being labeled as a "one-bid league" prior to Selection Sunday. Sure, most of the criticism was well-deserved at the time, considering how weak the league looked during the non-conference season, but it has won three games in this year's NCAA tournament. Throw in the fact that Gonzaga won a game and Saint Mary's has won two, and the Left Coast is proving that it still has teams that can play with anyone in the country.

7. Pearl has Vols cruising

Say what you want about the Tennessee basketball program and the off-the-court issues it endured this season, but Bruce Pearl has done one heck of a job in getting this team back to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. While the Volunteers have shown moments of brilliance (wins over No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky) and moments of ineptitude (losses to USC and Georgia) this season, they also may have had the easiest road to the Sweet 16 of any team after facing two double-digit seeds in San Diego State and Ohio in the first two rounds.

6. K-State has Final Four shot

Kansas State might not be better than its in-state rival, but its season managed to somehow last longer. It's funny how things sometimes work out like that, especially considering the fact that Frank Martin's team lost all three times they played the Jayhawks. But with a win over No. 15 seed North Texas and another against a veteran BYU team, the Wildcats are headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1988 -- when Mitch Richmond graced the hardwood in Manhattan -- with a strong chance to reach the Final Four now that the field is wide open.

5. Cornell won't be pushed around

Cornell may be playing Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but don't count out the Big Red just yet. Steve Donahue's team has the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and a legitimate big man in 7-footer Jeff Foote, who had his way with both Temple and Wisconsin in the first two rounds of the Big Dance. If Ryan Wittman and Cornell's supporting cast can shoot the ball from beyond the arc at a high clip, the Big Red have the chops to give the SEC regular-season champs a run for their money in Syracuse -- just an hour away from the school's campus.

4. Huskies peaking at right time

There's a reason why the pundits predicted Washington would be a Sweet 16 team before this season started. The Huskies may have been one of the most underachieving teams during the regular season, but Lorenzo Romar finally has his players clicking on all cylinders. With the kind of length and talent that is aligned up and down U-Dub's roster, particularly on the interior with Quincy Pondexter, Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, we could see the Pac-10's third-place team battling top-seeded Kentucky in the East regional final later this week.

3. Xavier does it again

Believe it or not, one of the most consistent programs over the last decade has been the Atlantic 10's pride and joy, Xavier. The Musketeers have reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the past three years, and first-year head coach Chris Mack has done it with a new style in place and a new crop of talent to mentor. The results, however, have remained the same since Sean Miller left for Arizona last April, with the X men continuing to show that they can compete just as well in a BCS conference like the Big Ten or Big East.

2. Jayhawks will kick themselves

Bill Self, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich won't be winning their second national championship in three seasons. The Kansas trio had their worlds rocked Saturday in Oklahoma City -- the same site where Self and the Jayhawks fell to No. 13 seed Bucknell back in 2005 -- as No. 9 seed Northern Iowa pulled off the improbable upset in stunning fashion. It took just two rounds to send the top overall seed home, and there's no question Self will have a tough time letting this one go given how talented and experienced this team was.

1. Kentucky's the clear favorite

With Kansas no longer in the national championship equation, it's Kentucky's title to win in Indianapolis. That is, if the Wildcats can get there first. John Calipari has the most electrifying player in the country in John Wall, but he's still just a freshman. And that means Wall and the rest of his teammates will have to handle the pressure of being the overwhelming favorite from this point forward. Unless Cornell, West Virginia or Washington is up to the challenge, the only teams that remain capable of taking out the 'Cats could be Syracuse and Ohio State.