And Then There Were 16.. Weekend Review

    
March 24th, 2008

What a weekend in college basketball. A plethora of close games. A few Cinderellas trying on their dancing shoes. Buzzer-beaters. Fired-up coaches. Chest-thumping players. And at the end of it all, 48 teams have been sent packing, their championship hopes dashed. The final 16 teams includes two 12 seeds, as well as a 10 and 7 seed...who would've thought? Here's a look back at four days of Madness

- How in the world did every major school miss on Stephen Curry? The sharp-shooting Davidson sophomore averaged 35 points per game in leading the Wildcats to wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Lightly-recruited by bigger schools, Curry has proven time and time again he has no problem match-up up against elite players. He nailed 13 shots from beyond the arc in the first two rounds, using textbook form and a lightning-quick release. The Wildcats will again be giving up size when they face Wisconsin next round, but with Curry on the floor, you can't count them out.

- UCLA and Stanford occupied most of the spotlight in the Pac-10 this year, but don't forget about Washington State. The Cougars had as impressive of a weekend as anyone, pounding upstart Winthrop 71-40, and then shutting down Notre Dame in a 61-41 victory, holding them to an average of 27% shooting from the field. The Cougars calling card all season has been their defense, and they proved why, engulfing Big East POY Luke Harangody and holding him to just 10 points. Their defense will be tested in the next round however, by North Carolina, who has scored over 100 in each of their first two games.

- The RPI aside, most people would agree that the Pac-10 and Big East were the nation's toughest conferences this year, and the remaining teams are proof. Both conferences have three teams still standing, while the ACC and SEC each only have one. However, while the Pac-10 teams (UCLA, Stanford, Washington State) were somewhat expected, the three Big East might be a little surprising. No Georgetown, no Notre Dame and no Connecticut...replaced by West Virginia (5th in the conference) and Villanova (8th in the conference). Madness indeed.

- Out of the six mid-major at large teams, five lost in the first round, including ugly losses by Kent State and South Alabama. However, Xavier is still very much alive, having grinded out tough wins over a hot Georgia team and a scrappy Purdue squad. The Muskies have an incredibly balanced attack, and really get after teams defensively, denying passing lanes and just generally frustrating opponents. Diminutive point guard Drew Lavender, the heart and soul of the team, is a joy to watch as he speeds by defenders, while fellow seniors Stanley Burrell and Josh Duncan are as tough-minded as they come. Guards CJ Anderson and BJ Raymond are versatile players, while forward Derrick Brown has NBA-athleticism. If Jason Love continues to produce down low, Xavier should be able to knock off West Virginia in the next round, setting up a potentially interesting game with UCLA with a Final Four berth on the line.

- Duke haters can rejoice again after another tournament sees the Devils fail to make it past the first weekend. Last year, it was VCU shocking the Devils; this year West Virginia did the deed, exposing Duke's over-dependency on three-point shooting and lack of inside presence. Thought to be the weakest of the 2-seeds in the field, Duke did nothing to disprove that, barely escaping Belmont in the first round before bowing out to the Mountaineers. A severe lack of athleticism outside of Gerald Henderson once again doomed the Devils, who couldn't stay in front of anyone on defense. Another early exit next year, and the over-rated chants will be louder than ever.

- In other over-rated news, how does a team with Arizona's talent keep getting bounced early? The Wildcats boast two probably future lottery picks in Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger, along with future NBA player Jordan Hill, yet they won't see the second round of the tournament for the second straight year. It was a trying year to be sure, with the Lute Olson distractions and nagging injuries, but at some point, you'd like to see them start playing up to their potential.

- Indiana concluded their bizarre season by mailing in most of the game against Arkansas in bowing out in the first round. When Kelvin Sampson was replaced as head coach on Feb. 22 following an investigation into NCAA violations, the Hoosiers spiraled downwards, going 3-4 under interim coach Dan Dakich. Star freshman guard Eric Gordon struggled against Arkansas, going 3-15, and many of the Hoosiers appeared uninterested in playing defense. Indiana is too proud of a program to let this bog them down for too long, but there's no doubt this was not the same team that entered February at 17-3.

- Thanks for stopping by Michael Beasley and OJ Mayo. The two superstar freshmen, both likely headed to the NBA, saw their seasons over the weekend. Beasley showed why he's up for POY honors as he led the Wildcats to a first-round victory over USC and Mayo, totaling 23 points and 11 rebounds. The Wildcats then ran into an experienced Wisconsin team in the second round, bowing out despite another good effort from Beasley (23 and 13). But both kids should hold their heads high. They entered the season with enormous expectations and lived up to them, not an easy task for a young kid.

- It's hard to pin down the best game over the weekend, but there were a few that stood out. Western Kentucky and Drake put on a shoot-out for the ages in the first round, with WKU winning in OT on a Ty Rogers' 30-foot heave at the buzzer. Following that, San Diego stunned UConn, getting giant performances from Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare, plus a buzzer-beater of their own by De'Jon Jackson. UCLA needed late-game heroics from Darren Collison to hold off Texas A&M on Saturday, while Stanford got a baseline shot from Brook Lopez with one second left to knock off Marquette in overtime. Then, Tennessee needed late free throws to hold off a gritty Butler team in overtime on Sunday, while Memphis grinded out a three-point win over a tough Mississippi State squad. All in all, even though my brackets are destroyed (Siena anyone??), it was a great weekend for hoops.

- Similarly, it's hard to put out a list of the best individual performances of the weekend, since there was so many. But a few that simply can't be ignored: Davidson's Stephen Curry (40 pts vs. Gonzaga, 30 pts vs. Georgetown), Kentucky's Joe Crawford (35 pts vs. Marquette), Marquette's Jerel McNeal (30 pts vs. Stanford), West Virginia's Joe Mazzulla (13 pts, 11 reb, 8 ast off the bench vs. Duke), Arkansas' Sonny Weems (31 pts vs. Indiana), Miami's Jack McClinton (38 pts vs. St. Mary's), Stanford's Brook Lopez (30 pts vs. Marquette), WKU's Tyrone Brazelton (33 pts. vs. Drake), Xavier’s Drew Lavender (18 pts, 9 ast vs. Purdue), Duke's Gerald Henderson (21 pts, 7 reb, 5 stl vs. Belmont) and Villanova's Scottie Reynolds (25 pts, 8 reb, 5 ast vs. Siena).