First weekend recap and Second weekend preview
Best Game of the First Weekend-
West Regional: 15 Norfolk State 86, 2 Missouri 84
If you’re questioning my credibility as a bracketologist…I can’t blame you. “Shocked” would be putting it nicely when you describe my emotions to this score as the team I picked to win the entire tournament bowed out in only the fifth 2-15 upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. Granted there was a sixth the same night as Duke fell to Lehigh, but nothing stunned me more than this. Missouri scored 84 points. That should have been enough to win. In all but two of their games this year they held opponents to under 84 points and one of those two games was an 89-88 win at Baylor. The other was an 87-86 overtime loss at Kansas. So it wasn’t as if Missouri laid an egg. While this completely took me by surprise I must credit Norfolk State. They played their hearts out, fought for every loose ball, and the longer they continued to hang in with Missouri, the more nervous I got as it became more and more evident that they may have a shot to pull the upset. Kyle O’Quinn played big for Norfolk with 26 points and 14 rebounds leading the charge to what may go down as the biggest win in the history of the basketball program at Norfolk State. Missouri had been playing well coming into the tournament having won the Big 12 Conference Tournament, and they didn’t play poorly in their loss. Norfolk State just played completely over their heads and out of their minds. They came back down to earth the next round losing 84-50 to Florida but this win over Missouri was certainly the best game of the weekend.
Best Player of the First Weekend-
Tu Holloway: Xavier, Guard
He scored 46 points in the two Xavier wins over the weekend, had a field goal percentage north of 50, hit six three point field goals, but most importantly came up big in the clutch for Xavier. The stat line tells you he can ball, but after having watched both Xavier wins, the impact he has on the team is immeasurable. He has the ability to take over a game and lead the Musketeers to a victory all by himself. He definitely showed some senior leadership over the weekend which will have to continue as Xavier goes up against a hot Baylor team on Friday night in one of two South Regional Semifinals.
Biggest Surprise of the First Weekend (aside from Norfolk State over Missouri)-
Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation Sweet 16 Teams
This one caught me off guard. After the first weekend there are four teams from the state of Ohio still in the field and playing in the sweet 16 this weekend. One of which is Ohio State. I had them in the sweet 16 in my bracket but they were on the ropes against Gonzaga, but survived. That one wasn’t the surprise, but the other three were. I mentioned Tu Holloway and Xavier. I had them losing to Notre Dame in the 7-10 South Regional game. They almost did. But as the old cliché goes…almost doesn’t count except in horseshoes and hand grenades. Xavier advanced past the Irish with a 67-63 win that went right down to the wire. They then became the beneficiaries of Lehigh’s upset win over Duke and got to play the 15th seeded Mountain Hawks in the next round as opposed to Coach K’s Blue Devils. There would be no Cinderella run for Lehigh as Xavier took care of them 70-58. So, they played well over the weekend, but also got some luck I didn’t expect them to get. Like I said earlier, up next for Xavier is the Baylor Bears.
The third team out of the state of Ohio that’s still around is the Cincinnati Bearcats. First they won a game I expected them to win against Texas, though they did let a big lead get away down the stretch and it became a tight ending. Then came the upset of Florida State. This was a big surprise to me. Florida State entered the tournament playing really well having won the ACC Tournament and though they struggled against St. Bonaventure, it was a trap game as the Bonnies entered the tournament hot as well. However, Cincinnati proved to be a little bit better on Sunday night. A true team effort in which three of five starters scored in double digits led to a 62-56 W for Mick Cronin’s boys. They’ll next play one of the other Ohio teams left, the second seed in the East regional, the Ohio State Buckeyes. I decided to save the best for last and talk about the Ohio Bobcats. The 4-13 upset has been a more recent tournament trend within the last five years and this year Ohio took out the four in the Midwest Michigan. Guard D.J. Cooper lead the way with 21 points and five assists, and three other Bobcats added double digits in scoring to help the cause which ended up resulting in a 65-60 win. Their second win of the tournament came against the 12 seed in the Midwest, the South Florida Bulls. South Florida had beaten 5th seeded Temple in their first game of the tournament, so Ohio’s path to the Sweet 16 was similar to that of Xavier’s. They pulled an upset and then played a team in their next game that also pulled an upset so their draw got a little bit easier. That said they still had to go out and earn it, and they did winning by the same score that got Cincinnati to the sweet 16 against FSU, 62-56. Ohio gets the top dog in the Midwest Regional now, number-one seed North Carolina.
Best Game in the upcoming weekend-
West Regional Semifinal- 7 Florida vs. 3 Marquette
Since my bracket has already been thrown in the trash I’d rather not try and predict a possible regional final and say why that is going to be the best game of the weekend because given the accuracy of my predictions this year, that regional final probably would not even happen. While Florida did play two double digit seeds to get to the sweet 16, they looked good in beating Virginia and Norfolk State. In March, any win you can get is a good win, and while I understand Norfolk was coming off the emotional high of such a big win against Missouri and may not have felt there was a whole lot else to play for, Florida is winning and still alive and at the end of the day that’s all that matters. Marquette had always been a top team for most of the season. They never were a projected number one seed in previous Bracketology for Dummies but were a staple in the top 15 of the AP Poll for most of the season. They disposed of BYU in their first game and then beat a tricky Murray State team in what was considered to be a trap game for them. Marquette comes in proving why they were a nationally ranked team all year, and Florida comes in with a couple convincing wins. Tipoff is slated for 10:17 Thursday night. Don’t worry about school on Friday. Stay up and watch. It’ll be worth it.
Player to Watch in the upcoming weekend-
Jordan Taylor: Wisconsin, Guard
Similar to Tu Holloway, Taylor is a senior guard whose leadership ability can take over a game and will his team to victory. Wisconsin hasn’t been able to make lots of tournament noise in Taylor’s tenure as a Badger and last year was no exception. They won a couple games they were supposed to win and then were upset by Butler in the sweet 16. I wasn’t expecting them to beat Vanderbilt over the weekend so perhaps they have a run in them that I didn’t see considering they already beat one team I wasn’t expecting them too. If they’re going to make a push in Taylor’s last days, he’s going to lead the charge. I give them a good chance to knock off Syracuse in one of two East Regional Semifinals Thursday night.
Upset Alert in the upcoming weekend-
Midwest Regional Semifinal: 11 NC State vs. 2 Kansas
Kansas did not impress me in their most recent game against Purdue. While I did look at Purdue as a possible sleeper team in the tournament in a previous Bracketology for Dummies, if Kansas is as real as some people think they are (I know many that have them in the final four) then they’ll have to step up their game against the Wolfpack. I’ve talked about the great coaching job Mark Gottfried has done at NC State this year, and they impressed me playing very well in both their wins over San Diego State and Georgetown this past weekend. They seem to be poised for another big win and if Kansas hits a bump in the road again, people that love going down the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” road may have some regrets as NC State might be able to pull the upset.
Don’t Forget about….
Kentucky vs. Indiana and Michigan State vs. Louisville
All this analyzing and yet no mention of the top seeded Kentucky Wildcats. That’s because there wasn’t much surpising regarding Kentucky in the first weekend. We all knew they were the best team in the country and they continued to show why with two easy wins. It should get a little harder for Kentucky on Friday though as they play one of two teams to have beaten them this year, the Indiana Hooisers. Revenge is nice, but it must be earned first.
And then there’s Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. Izzo is two wins away from his seventh final four appearance in 14 years. That’s unreal. But the guy on the other sideline on Thursday night is also quite the coach as well. Rick Pitino has his Louisiville Cardinals on quite the roll. They won four games in four days at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament and carried the momentum to what lead to wins over Davidson and New Mexico. Louisville’s got a chance against Michigan State. This one should be a great strategic chess match between two legendary coaches that will probably come down to the wire.