Another crazy day of March Madness, though perhaps not as wild as Thursday.
Mercer started off Friday with an upset of Duke 78-71, similar to Thursday (Dayton - Ohio State), but this time a more notable one. The Bears were an opponent of Seton Hall for two of the last three seasons, so their senior experience was not a surprise to any Pirate fans. Their upset of Duke was always in the cards, but Mercer looked quite good doing it, a non-underdog type of feel to their game.
The next four games weren't terribly exciting, highlighted by Tennessee blowing out an over-seeded UMass team 86-67. Around the same time, Creighton took care of a Louisiana-Lafayette team that nearly Ragin Cajuned its way to victory for about 30 minutes, and Marquette lost Buzz Williams, who was making $2.8 million as head coach of the Golden Eagles, to Virginia Tech.
In later games, Gonzaga upset Oklahoma State in a Wally Rutecki foul fest (same official who worked Seton Hall - Niagara) that was nearly impossible to watch just prior to a heavyweight slugfest between Providence and North Carolina. Bryce Cotton (36 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) played incredible, but so did the Tar Heels in a contest that felt like an Elite 8 game. The loss leaves just Villanova (vs. UConn tonight) and Creighton (vs. Baylor Sunday) as Big East teams still in the field.
Outside of Coastal Carolina giving 1-seed Virginia a real scare for 30 minutes, the late games were fairly dull. Perhaps this was because the game that preceded the four night games, VCU - Stephen F. Austin, was anything but dull. Shaka Smart's team led by 10 with just over 3 minutes to play in the game and somehow let the Lumberjacks tie and bring it to overtime on a game-tying four-point play with under 30 seconds to play. Along with Duke - Mercer and Providence - UNC, those were my three games of the day.
Here is today's slate of games and three that I will make sure to watch:
12:15, CBS, #9 Pittsburgh vs. #1 Florida
2:45, CBS, #5 Saint Louis vs. #4 Louisville
5:15, CBS, #7 Texas vs. #2 Michigan
6:10, TNT, #12 North Dakota State vs. #4 San Diego State
7:10, TBS, #11 Dayton vs. #3 Syracuse
7:45, CBS, #7 Oregon vs. #2 Wisconsin
8:40, TNT, #12 Harvard vs. #4 Michigan State
9:40, TBS, #7 Connecticut vs. #2 Villanova
1) Saint Louis and Louisville both play relatively up-tempo and are guard oriented outside of the impending Montrezl Harrell - Rob Loe battle in the paint. Louisville is favored by nearly 10 points, but this should be an entertaining game with the Bilikens handed a second life after NC State collapsed against them in the second round.
2) Any time a 12-seed has a good chance of making the Sweet 16, you watch. Led by Lawrence Alexander, the Bison put on a show against Oklahoma late in the game and matchup well with San Diego State. Both teams usually play at a lower tempo but NDSU has a bit more firepower on offense than the Aztecs.
3) Nothing like an old-time Big East matchup with a Sweet 16 birth on the line. Villanova started slow against Milwaukee but finally got rolling while Connecticut went to the wire with Saint Joseph's in the second round. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright against Villanova's James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart, and Ryan Arcidiacono should be an entertaining backcourt battle. The Wildcats may have the interior advantage with JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu against DeAndre Daniels and the behemoth centers who back him up.
Quinn Bowler sits in first in the SOJ bracket pool having picked upsets Mercer, Harvard, Dayton, Stephen F. Austin, and North Dakota State all correctly.