NCAA Tournament: Opening Weekend Lessons

March 24th, 2009
The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament - also known as the greatest four days in sports - provided more than a few lessons. Among them: 1) If your company requires to take furlough days, there's no better time than the first two days of the tournament, and 2) It's amazing how many beers you can fit into a single day when there is basketball on TV all day long. Also, for future reference, be sure to check if the bar has a happy hour, or you may be decidedly unhappy when the check comes.

Ahh...but there were lessons learned on the court as well. We learned just how valuable Ty Lawson is to North Carolina. We learned that Greivis Vasquez probably needs to stop running his mouth before big games. We learned that the Big East is leaving no doubt as to their superiority, while the SEC also left no doubt as to their..well...inferiority. Here's some other things garnered from four straight days of nothing but hoops.

DeJuan Blair is the strongest player in the country
One glance at the Pitt big man, and it's easy to see why he's so good. He's built like a powerlifter, with a burly chest, huge arms and giant hands that seem to corral every ball in his area. Blair was a man amongst boys in the Panthers' first-round scare against East Tennessee State, popping in 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, including a huge offensive board and put-back late in the game with the outcome still in doubt. Against Oklahoma State, he was held to just 10 points (on seven field-goal attempts), but did add 12 boards and generally cleared the lane at will for the Pitt guards. Next up: Xavier, who may want to get some extra weight-lifting sessions in before doing battle with the big guy. On a side note - It's always dangerous to look ahead during the tourney, but who wouldn't want to see a Blair/Blake Griffin matchup in the Final Four? It would be a treat for fans to watch arguably the two strongest players in the country tussle in the paint.

The ACC falls flat...mostly
Yes, Duke and North Carolina are in the Sweet 16. But for a league that put seven teams in the tournament, and touted itself as equal (or better) to the Big East, that's not nearly good enough. Wake Forest, a dark horse Final Four pick by some, suffered arguably the worst loss of the opening round, getting battered by Cleveland State in a game that was never even close. Boston College also was pounded by USC, while Clemson couldn't complete a late comeback against Michigan and Florida State coughed up a double-digit lead to Wisconsin. Then Maryland, after a solid win over Cal, was outclassed by Memphis after the always-talkative Vasquez mouthed off about how good the ACC was compared to Conference USA. He may have had a point, but I don't know of anyone on a 7-9 ACC team who should be talking trash. Alas, he's now at home with the majority of the ACC, as they watch the Big East continue to march on.

The charm of the tournament is alive and well
The Sweet 16 may feature 13 teams from the power conferences, but that doesn't mean the little guys didn't make their marks over the weekend. Gritty North Dakota State guard Ben Woodside earned everybody's respect by dropping 37 points on Kansas, keeping the Bison in the game until the final buzzer. VCU's Eric Maynor may not have dropped the game-winner this time around, but his fearless performance against UCLA further cemented his status as a future NBA player. Western Kentucky's Orlando Mendez-Valdez put on a show against Gonzaga, dropping 17 first-half points and then leading a charge in he second half, only to have the Zags' Demetri Goodson hit a runner with less than a second left to win it. Siena's Ronald Moore nailed two clutch three-pointers in one of the first round's most exciting games, as the Saints outlasted Ohio State. American, Akron, East Tennessee State, Cal-State Northridge and Northern Iowa all put up great fights, only to fall short. So even though we're seeing a lot of familiar and well-known faces still dancing, that doesn't mean Cinderella didn't show up.

Senior moments
And last but not least, the Big Dance always means the end of the road for some unforgettable seniors who we've grown accustomed to watching, reading about and following. Here's a list of some notable who won't be suiting up in the college ranks anymore.

Darren Collison, UCLA (15 pts. against Villanova), Josh Shipp, UCLA (18 pts.), Jon Brockman, Washington (20 pts, 18 rebounds against Purdue), Jerel McNeal, Marquette (30 pts vs. Missouri), Wesley Matthews, Marquette (24 pts, 7 rebounds), Tyrese Rice, Boston College (9 pts, 4 ast vs. USC), Byron Eaton, Oklahoma State (15 pts, 10 ast, 5 stl vs. Pitt), Toney Douglas, Florida State (26 pts. vs Wisconsin), AJ Abrams, Texas (17 pts. vs Duke), Marcus Thornton, LSU (25 pts. vs UNC), Dionte Christmas, Temple (29 pts. vs Arizona State), KC Rivers, Clemson (13 pts, 9 rebounds vs. Michigan), and Eric Maynor, VCU (21 pts, 7 ast, 6 rebounds vs UCLA). Thanks for the memories guys.