Evening observations from Day 2

March, 20, 2009
03/20/09
10:30
PM ET
A couple of observations from Friday night's early set of games in the NCAA tournament:

1. Arizona and USC were two of the last teams to make the NCAA's 65-team field, but you hardly knew it watching those teams play Friday night.

Arizona, which was a controversial at-large choice after it finished 9-9 in Pac-10 play, blasted No. 5 seed Utah 84-71 in a first-round game of the Midwest Region in Miami. USC, which had to win last weekend's Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles to secure an automatic bid, routed No. 7 seed Boston College 72-55 in a first-round game of the Midwest Region in Minneapolis.

The results should hardly come as a surprise if you look at those teams' rosters.

USC has a couple of future NBA players, including forward Taj Gibson, who scored 24 points on 10-for-10 shooting. Gibson matched the second-best shooting performance in an NCAA tournament game; Kentucky's Kenny Walker went 11-for-11 in 1986. Dwight Lewis added 20 points, and the Trojans did a good job of locking down BC guard Tyrese Rice, who scored only nine points on 4-for-11 shooting.

USC was a perplexing team this season, to say the least. The Trojans didn't do much of anything during their nonconference schedule, even losing to Seton Hall, then fell off the NCAA tournament bubble by going 1-6 in February. But the Trojans have won six games in a row and seem to be playing with a lot of confidence and purpose.

USC coach Tim Floyd teaches defense as well as any coach in the country, and he'll figure out a way to give the Trojans a chance in future rounds. USC will meet the winner of Friday night's game between 2-seed Michigan State and 15-seed Robert Morris in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Arizona's early-season struggles -- the Wildcats lost five of their first 14 games and five of their first seven Pac-10 contests -- were understandable after coach Lute Olson retired unexpectedly in late October. But interim coach Russ Pennell did a fantastic job of keeping the Wildcats intact, and they won seven games in a row midway through the Pac-10 schedule.

But after Arizona lost five of its last six games before the tournament, many college basketball pundits questioned whether the Wildcats were worthy of an at-large bid. They extended their streak of NCAA appearances to 25 seasons in a row, then proved against the Utes that they were more than worthy of inclusion in the NCAA field. The Wildcats won because they have two future NBA players in the frontcourt: forwards Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger. They combined for 37 points and 21 rebounds against the Utes, who didn't have an answer.

The Wildcats are big enough and talented enough to give No. 4 seed Wake Forest problems Sunday -- if the Demon Deacons beat No. 13 seed Cleveland State on Friday night.

2. After 4-seed Xavier beat 13-seed Portland State 77-59 in a first-round game of the East Region on Friday night, the Atlantic 10 has twice as many teams (the Musketeers and Dayton) left in the NCAA field as the SEC (LSU). Neither A-10 team came in looking as if it would stick around long in the NCAAs; they were a combined 4-8 in March.

But Xavier shot 8-for-19 on 3-pointers and did a good job of protecting the 3-point line on defense. At some point in the tournament, Xavier's lack of success at the foul line -- it went 11-for-18 against the Vikings -- will catch up with it. The Musketeers shot only 67.5 percent from the foul line this season, which was 219th among 330 Division I teams.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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