Early observations from Day 2 action

March, 20, 2009
03/20/09
4:19
PM ET
Here are some observations from Friday's early set of NCAA tournament games:

1. There might not have been a bigger enigma in college basketball this season than Tennessee. OK, maybe Georgetown or Notre Dame.

With Tyler Smith, J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism, the Volunteers were talented enough to advance to the Sweet 16 (or maybe even the Final Four). Instead, the No. 9 seed Volunteers lost to No. 8 seed Oklahoma State 77-75 in an East Regional first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday.

Tennessee's latest loss was pretty much a microcosm of its season. After taking a 75-74 lead on Tyler Smith's three-point play with 24 seconds left, Vols guard Josh Tabb, who had been suspended from playing in the first half by coach Bruce Pearl for an undisclosed violation of team rules, allowed Byron Eaton to drive straight to the basket for a layup. Eaton was fouled and made the free throw for a two-point victory.

For whatever reason, Pearl was never able to persuade his team that its best chance to score was inside the paint. The Vols shot a whopping 33 3-pointers (out of 56 shots) and never went to Chism and Smith enough down the stretch.

2. For all of those college basketball fans who worried about No. 3 seed Syracuse having tired legs after last week's remarkable run in the Big East tournament, the Orange seemed to be just fine against No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin in Miami on Friday.

At least Syracuse wasn't tired on defense. The Orange used their vaunted zone defense to hold the Lumberjacks to only 24.7 percent shooting, including 2-for-21 on 3-pointers.

But if the Orange are going to survive the second round, they'll have to get better shooting from their guards. Eric Devendorf went only 3-for-11 from the floor, and Andy Rautins was scoreless after going 0-for-6 on 3-pointers.

That's good enough against a team like Stephen F. Austin. It won't be good enough against a team like Arizona State or Temple.

3. It's a shame there weren't more at-large teams from smaller conferences in the 65-team field. No. 11 seed Utah State more than showed that its 30-4 record going into the NCAA tournament wasn't a fluke, losing to No. 6 seed Marquette 58-57 in the West Regional. And No. 14 seed North Dakota State more than held its own against defending national champion Kansas in an 84-74 loss in the Midwest.

The Bison invested the past five seasons in getting ready for its first NCAA tournament appearance, and the wait was more than worth it. Guard Ben Woodside showed he could play for any team in the country, scoring 37 points in 40 minutes.

I'm betting the NCAA tournament's opening round would have been more exciting with guys like Davidson's Stephen Curry and St. Mary's Patty Mills.

4. I'm still not sure how far Marquette can go without injured guard Dominic James. Its three starting guards against Utah State -- Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Maurice Acker -- shot a combined 7-for-30, including 2-for-13 on 3-pointers. The Golden Eagles' guards will have to play better if Marquette is going to win again.

5. The biggest development for Kansas in Friday's 84-74 win over North Dakota State? The play of sophomore center Cole Aldrich, who scored 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting with 11 rebounds.

Guard Sherron Collins is good enough to carry the No. 3-seeded Jayhawks for a couple of rounds. But if Aldrich continues to play well, Kansas might have a good chance to reach the Sweet 16 again. The Jayhawks might be difficult for anyone to stop with that kind of inside-outside game.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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