Parting shots from opening weekend
Here are some parting shots from each site from the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Andy Katz from Charlotte
1. Duke's Kyrie Irving found a way to make a difference for the Blue Devils despite missing the past three months with a toe injury. Irving gives Duke a second late-game shot-maker to complement Nolan Smith, as evidenced by his bucket with 32 seconds left, the decisive score in the Blue Devils' win over Michigan.
2. North Carolina has one of the most disruptive defensive players left in the field in John Henson. His length gives the Tar Heels an added dimension defensively.
3. Michigan is going to be a beast in the Big Ten if it can add just one more quality big man. The Wolverines gave Duke all it could handle in their third-round matchup. Players like Darius Morris (sophomore), Tim Hardaway Jr. (freshman) and Jordan Morgan (freshman) gained valuable experience and should make the Wolverines a team to watch in the Big Ten next season.
Eamonn Brennan from Chicago
1. The NCAA tournament is cruel. This is not a particularly revelatory observation, but it gets hammered home every year, and this weekend's games in Chicago were no exception. Purdue seniors E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson saw their storied careers end Sunday at the hands of a red-hot, out-of-nowhere VCU team, and that end was made all the more bitter by the sight of a visibly affected Robbie Hummel, whose back-to-back ACL injuries robbed the Boilermakers of their full-strength run at a national title in two straight seasons. Hummel will be back next year, but he won't get to play with his classmates. Johnson and Moore deserved to finish their careers "with a bang," as Purdue coach Matt Painter put it. Instead, they ended with a whimper.
2. The NCAA tournament is all about timing. VCU is the hottest team in the country. Florida State suddenly found its offense. Both teams entered the tournament as double-digit seeds with nonexistent expectations, and because both managed to find their strides at the perfect time -- take one look at VCU and try to convince yourself that team can't go to the Final Four -- they upset high-seeded home favorites in front of partisan crowds on their way to unlikely appearances in the Sweet Sixteen.
3. The NCAA tournament requires good guard play. The advantage of having a consistent, turnover-free and preferably quick point guard in the NCAA tournament hasn't diminished. VCU's Joey Rodriguez, who has facilitated the Rams' brilliant offense in their first two tournament wins, is an excellent example. Rodriguez gets his teammates involved early and often, and when the Rams pull away and the opposition starts to press, he's quick and nimble enough to avoid traps and control the game from start to finish.
Brian Bennett from Cleveland
1. Ohio State is the real deal: The Buckeyes have been the most impressive No. 1 seed in the tournament so far. After an expected romp over Texas-San Antonio, they destroyed George Mason 98-66 in a breathtaking performance. They're clicking on all cylinders right now and left no doubt that they deserved to be the No. 1 overall seed.
2. Buzz Williams is a hot property: The Marquette coach was already being mentioned for vacancies at Oklahoma and Arkansas. Expect that talk to heat up after he led the Golden Eagle to two terrific efforts against Xavier and Syracuse. He's a colorful guy and his players clearly love him. The question is whether he'll leave the place that gave him his shot.
3. Jay Wright has some reevaluating to do: Villanova collapsed over the second half of the season, which was mirrored in the Wildcats' loss to George Mason after a strong first half. This is the second straight year in which Villanova has unraveled late in the season. Wright needs to figure out why that is and stop the trend.
Diamond Leung from Denver
1. BYU is playing its best basketball of the season. That's the determination made by coach Dave Rose after the Cougars crushed Gonzaga by 22 to reach the Sweet 16. While Jimmer Fredette has scored 66 points over two games, it wouldn't be possible without forward Noah Hartsock shooting well and backcourt mate Jackson Emery starting to heat up.
2. Richmond advancing to the Sweet 16 is not a fluke because of its one-two punch. The Spiders have a 6-foot guard in Kevin Anderson who has shown the ability to make a big shot and a 6-foot-10 forward in Justin Harper who has the range to shoot from deep and also make a difference on the interior.
3. Morehead State big man Kenneth Faried is worth the price of admission, notching two more double-doubles in the opening weekend. The nation's leading rebounder is relentless on the glass and an explosive player even as his skills on offense need development. He'll make a nice living in the NBA.
Mark Schlabach from Tampa
1. Kentucky's freshmen are ready: Coaches are never quite sure whether freshmen are ready to handle the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, but Kentucky coach John Calipari has no such qualms about his rookies. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight scored a career-high 30 points in UK's 71-63 victory over West Virginia in the third round, and forward Terrence Jones showed signs of coming out of his shooting slump.
2. Florida guard Erving Walker isn't as small as he looks: The Gators junior scored 21 points in Florida's 73-65 win over UCLA in the third round and made big shot after big shot. Walker scored nine of Florida's final 11 points, including a game-changing 3-pointer with 1:13 to play. If the game is on the line, Walker wants the ball in his hands.
3. UCLA is on its way back: After a couple of rebuilding seasons, UCLA is back on track. Bruins freshman Josh Smith can become one of the country's dominant big men, and sophomore Reeves Nelson is close to becoming a complete player. The Bruins should bring back all five starters next season, and they'll be one of the country's best teams.
Ted Miller from Tucson
1. Jacob Pullen was the best player in Tucson, but he's going home: Kansas State guard Pullen was ill Wednesday but he was just sick in two tournament games, scoring 22 and 38 points. The two-time All-Big 12 point guard became the Wildcats' all-time leading scorer in the process. The bad news is that his 38 points, the tournament scoring high, wasn't enough for the Wildcats to beat Wisconsin and advance to the Sweet 16.
2. San Diego State proved it belonged with a hard-nosed win over Temple: Despite a brilliant regular season and an impressive -- read: perfect -- record in road nonconference games, some still doubted whether the Aztecs were a legit No. 2 seed. While the win over Temple was hardly pretty -- the second half featured some really, really sloppy hoops from both teams -- it did show the Aztecs could tough it out against a quality team on a big stage. Of course, beating No. 3 Connecticut on Thursday would leave zero doubt that the Aztecs are a contender.
3. Wisconsin is dangerous: The Badgers were a popular pick to be upset in the first round by Belmont. Nope. They used "team" basketball to outlast an individual tour de force performance from Pullen and they've regained their shooting touch after a dismal performance in the Big Ten tournament against Penn State. And if you look at the bracket, and what the Badgers did in Tucson, it's hard not to start seeing this team as a serious Final Four contender.
Pat Forde from Tulsa
1. Arizona is living right. The Wildcats won two games by a total of three points, with some controversial calls going their way at the end of both games. But it hasn't just been good breaks; it's been good play from unusual suspects. The biggest revelation was freshman substitute Jordin Mayes, who made 8 of 9 shots in Tulsa, including all five of his 3-point shots.
2. Kansas' Morris twins are an overpowering force right now. Marcus and Markieff combined for 41 points and 23 rebounds against Illinois, and had 31 and 17 against Boston U. They will be tough matchups for the double-digit seeds meeting the Jayhawks in San Antonio.
3. Rick Barnes and Texas come up short again. Lost in all the tumult over the end-game officiating against Arizona is the fact that Barnes continues to underperform in the NCAA tournament, given his talent. He's now 20-19 in tourney games, despite working with NBA talent for at least the past six straight seasons. A lot of people thought Texas was underseeded at No. 4, but the Longhorns didn't even live up to that seeding.
Dana O'Neil from Washington D.C.
1. Connecticut isn't tired. Anyone who still holds to the old-fashioned notion that the Huskies wouldn't have enough gas left in their tank to do well in the NCAA tournament needs to change their opinions. UConn has won seven games in 11 nights and looked fresh as a daisy in beating Bucknell and Cincinnati to move to the Sweet 16. Rather than tiring them out, the Huskies' five-games-in-five-night marathon at the Big East tournament clearly has given UConn new confidence.
2. Butler's magic is back, but this team isn't just built on pixie dust. The Bulldogs had a little luck and a little drama to beat Old Dominion and Pittsburgh but they also had some of the skill that got them to the national championship game a year ago. Butler is back to playing scrappy and sometimes downright nasty defense. The Bulldogs beat ODU at their own game, outrebounding one of the country's best teams on the boards and went toe-to-toe for toughness with Pitt, arguably one of the toughest teams in the nation. There is no tangible value for the experience that Matt Howard, Ronald Nored, Shawn Vanzant and Shelvin Mack have, but there is no doubting its invaluable addition for Butler.
3. It's hard to know which is more crushing for Pittsburgh: Scottie Reynolds' coast-to-coast buzzer-beater in the Elite Eight two years ago or the end-game implosion that cost them against Butler. When they lost to Villanova, the Panthers were on the precipice of the Final Four. This time, they were bounced early in the strangest and most bizarre of fashions. Regardless, the knock on Pitt, fair or not, will continue as the Panthers' struggles in March continue.
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