The NCAA tournament is a wonderful time of year, when the novice basketball fan becomes obsessed, and the obsessed basketball fan becomes clinically insane. The first weekend of the NCAA tournament came and went, and with it, a pair of 14 seeds thrashing the hopes of perennial powers on the very first day of action. Georgia State topped No. 3 seed Baylor with a last second, deep 3-pointer from R.J. Hunter that caused father and head coach Ron Hunter to literally fall off his chair in excitement. In the southern region, UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham) knocked off offensive juggernaut Iowa State with stingy defense, holding the Cyclones to just 37 percent shooting from the field to advance to the round of 32.
The second day of the tournament was vastly different from the first day, with the lack of upsets really taking the madness out of March. The first 15 games of the day all saw the higher seeded team win, and it wasn’t until the 16th and final game of the day that eleventh seed Dayton, who made a run in last year’s tournament as well, upset Providence.
However, on the other side of any upset, there needs to be a collapse, and this tournament had no shortage. Top-seeded Villanova fell to the hands of a pesky N.C. State team in the round of 32, led by lightning quick Anthony Barber and playmaker Trevor Lacey. From the tip, N.C State was able to penetrate the Villanova defense and score in the paint at will. Villanova senior Darrun Hilliard kept Villanova in the game late, scoring nine points in the final 45 seconds. However, N.C. State was able to secure a few key rebounds to escape with a win and advance. Many are comparing this scrappy N.C. State team to the one that made its title run behind head coach Jim Valvano in 1983. In a tournament as crazy as this one, we could possibly see the Wolfpack return to the final four.
Along with Villanova, No. 2 seeds Virginia and Kansas saw their seasons end in disappointment this past weekend. Virginia was out-muscled and out-hustled by Michigan State, who, regardless of seeding, always seems to play well in March behind head coach Tom Izzo.
On the other side of the bracket, in-state rival Wichita State upended Kansas. However, this victory surely proved sweeter than usual. The Shockers have tried to schedule a non-conference game against Kansas for several years, but the Jayhawks have been unwilling to play Wichita. It can only be assumed that Wichita State came into the game against Kansas with a little more motivation than usual, and they will now advance to the Sweet 16 to play Notre Dame.
The remaining No. 1 and No. 2 seeds all survived their first two games, and will move on to the Sweet 16 this coming weekend where they will be tested further. Among those advancing is top-seeded Kentucky, who used their incredible depth to bully their way past Hampton and Cincinnati. Many have regarded this Kentucky team as one of the best of all time, and they are the overwhelming favorite to capture the National Championship. However, they will face a stingy West Virginia in the Sweet 16 that leads the country in offensive rebounding.
While Kentucky doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, they aren’t an overly strong rebounding team, and they should be on high alert against the athletic West Virginia Mountaineers. If Kentucky faces a poor shooting night from Andrew and Aaron Harrison, their bigs will need to corral rebounds against West Virginia or an upset could occur.
This coming weekend will provide fans with high-octane entertainment as more quality teams begin to face each other. While the first weekend provides fans with the possibility of a Cinderella, the second weekend sees dreams realized as teams fight their way to the Final Four.
Furthermore, this coming weekend will provide spectators with some of the most high energy, high emotion basketball of the season. As fun as the first weekend is, college basketball is truly defined by what we will all see in the coming weeks.
A team to look out for next weekend is North Carolina. Although they aren’t overly balanced, they are led by preseason All-American Marcus Paige, and Kennedy Meeks on the low block. They have been tested in the ACC, and seem to be coming into their own as the tournament takes shape, winning five of their last six games before the tournament.
In the round of 16, the Tar Heels will play Wisconsin, a team that relies heavily on three point shooting. If the athletic Tar Heels could shut down their outside shooting, they could very easily advance past Wisconsin. Regardless of what occurs, the NCAA Tournament will continue to provide excitement, and draw more and more people into the magic that is March.