The first dull moment in this year's NCAA tournament came yesterday. The first four and a half games were rather uneventful due to lopsided scores until 11-seed Dayton pulled off their second upset of the tournament by knocking off 3-seed Syracuse in a low scoring 55-53 game that featured a 20-18 halftime score.
Simultaneous with Dayton's stunner, Oregon blew a 12-point halftime lead after Wisconsin came out of the locker room on fire from the field. A lot of pundits and bracketeers had Oregon over Wisconsin, but the Badgers took a heavy blow and countered well, setting up a Sweet 16 matchup with either Creighton or Baylor, an unavoidably good contest.
As Oregon - Wisconsin was wrapping up, Harvard rattled off a 29-11 second half run that was countered nicely by a Tom Izzo coached Michigan State team that pulls through in March way more often than not. A career-high 26 from Branden Dawson and a clutch 9-0 Sparty run after Harvard took a 63-62 lead did the trick for Michigan State.
In the late night game, Villanova attempted to pull off a late surge amidst an injury to Shabazz Napier's right shin, but the guard, who scored 25 on the night, returned quickly and delivered back-to-back acrobatic baskets driving to the rim to propel UConn to a 77-65 win. The Wildcats' loss leaves Creighton as the only school still alive from the Big East and the possibility that no teams from the conference survive the first weekend if Baylor takes down the 'Jays. The last time a Big East team didn't advance to the Sweet 16 was 1993.
In my opinion, today sports a lot more attractive games on paper than yesterday did, but here are just three that I wouldn't miss, along with the full schedule:
12:15, CBS, #10 Stanford vs. #2 Kansas
2:45, CBS, #8 Kentucky vs. #1 Wichita State
5:15, CBS, #6 North Carolina vs. #3 Iowa State
6:10, TNT, #14 Mercer vs. #11 Tennessee
7:10, TBS, #12 Stephen F. Austin vs. #4 UCLA
7:45, truTV, #6 Baylor vs. #3 Creighton
8:40, TNT, #8 Memphis vs. #1 Virginia
9:40, TBS, #8 Gonzaga vs. #1 Arizona
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Wichita State AND No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 1 Virginia - I cheated and chose two games here. Both of these matchups were widely predicted as occurring as well as being highly capable of providing upsets. Virginia struggled with Coastal Carolina on Friday night for 30 minutes while Wichita State shocked Cal Poly into submission, though Kentucky is considered the stronger of the two opponents. Not even factoring individual matchups, that is reason enough to watch these games.
No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Iowa State - Like points? Then you should probably watch this game. Both schools are ranked in the top-20 in tempo and Iowa State is sixth in the country in points per game. Add in the high athleticism and star power in guys like Marcus Paige and DeAndre Kane, and this game should be highly entertaining, if nothing else.
No. 14 Mercer vs. No. 11 Tennessee - The second game of the day that has Cinderella tendencies (12-seed Stephen F. Austin vs. UCLA being the other) will send the second double digit seed into the Sweet 16, joining Dayton. Tennessee looked quite impressive against both Xavier and UMass, explaining the 8-point line in their favor. Naturally, senior-laden Mercer will likely be the team every non-Vol will be rooting for. The Bears will be without senior center Monty Brown, who suffered a concussion against Duke and apparently did not remember the game at all.