Saturday, March 17, 2007

March Madness: 64 to 32

The first round of the NCAA Tournament is in the books and it was anything but "mad"; the only upsets belonged to 11th seed VCU over the #6 Blue Devils last night, and 11th seeded Winthrop over the unlucky Irish earlier today.

In fact, out of the 32 games played Thursday and Friday, the lower (better) seed won only 5
times. Is this the year that sanity reigns and we see all four No.1 seeds make it to the Final Four?

That may be going a bit too far, but so far the only real surprise of the tourney is that there have been so few surprises.

Let's take a look at some of the bigger developments from Round 1.

-The four No. 1 seeds (Florida, Kansas, Ohio State, North Carolina) won their games by an average of 31.5 points-no shocker there. But Florida, the number one overall seed, actually had a scare for a half from tiny Jackson State; the Tigers battled the Gators the entire first half, trailing by just 6 at the break before an 8-0 run by Florida to start the second half paved the way for blowout city.

-#2 Wisconsin proved to be a fortunate winner when it overcame an 18-point deficit against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi today. Somehow the scoring-impaired Badgers dug deep and managed to score 57 points in the second half-more than it normally tallies for an entire game- and held off the Islanders, 76-63.

-5th seeded Va Tech and 12 Illinois played the game of the day as the Hokies overcame poor shooting (38%), missed frees (10) and a 13-point second half hole before climbing out and knocking off the Illini, 54-52. What was interesting about that game was Illinois was having its way with the Hokies until about midway thru the second half, when Seth Greenberg went to the full-court trap to stifle Illinois' flow; the Illini managed only 3 baskets after the 10:00 mark.

-The Tennessee Volunteers, led by that nutty, orange-jacketed, orange-chested coach Bruce Pearl, set a new first round record for points scored in its 121-86 win over Long Beach State. Of all the teams in the Big dance, I don't think anyone would have predicted that the Vols would be the team to set such a mark.

-Texas got a scare from New Mexico St. before pulling away for a 79-67 victory. That meant I could breathe again, because the Longhorns are my pick to win it all.

Speaking of my bracket, I am a respectable 27-5 after the first round and just off the pace in the office pool (for a change), but I know full well that good fortune in the tourney can be as fleeting as an album sale for Kevin Federline, meaning that with two more full days of games starting at 1:00 today, I could go from the top of the board to the bottom of the pile in a hurry.

Here's some of the more interesting matchups of the second round for Saturday:

-Boston College/Georgetown
Two former Big east foes square off in what should be a fun, physical and emotional contest. Plenty of star power on hand in this one as each team has 3 quality scorers, including the Players of the Year for the ACC (BC's Jared Dudley) and the Big east (the Hoyas Jeff Green)

These storied programs have a rich tradition of hardwood history behind them and each will be fired up and ready to protect their reputations. The Bruins are the 2 seed in the West region and have a lot more riding on the line than Kelvin Sampson's upstart Hoosiers, which could be a dangerous thing for the Bruins and their backers (did I mention I have them playing Texas?)

-Louisville/Texas A&M
This one has the makings of a classic: the high-flying, three-point gunning Cardinals are riding a month-long hot streak and show no signs of slowing down. But the Aggies have one of the most explosive, exciting, and clutch players in all of college ball- Acie Law IV- and if the game is close and the Aggies can get him the ball, the Birds might be exiting this dance a bit prematurely

-Xavier/Ohio State
The battle of Ohio will not be an easy one for the top-seeded Buckeyes. These cross-state rivals (Xavier is in Cincy) have played some classics against each other, and the Musketeers will be eager to knock their neighbors to the north off their lofty perch

That's all I got tonight. Back at some point tomorrow to recap and possible detail the first major upset of the tourney.

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