We're now down to the Sweet 16, and to say the least there are some surprises. Ten seed Davidson, after knocking off Georgetown in Raleigh, moves on to Detroit thanks in large part to guard Stephen Curry. The brutal non-conference schedule they played early in the season clearly has paid off for the Wildcats. Another set of Wildcats, these hailing from Villanova, will also be in the Motor City as the twelve seed in the Midwest. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes proved to be too much for the cold-shooting Siena Saints. Also in Tampa, the West's twelve seed Western Kentucky moves on after holding off a furious second-half rally by thirteen seed San Diego.
The story of the final set of games: Memphis surviving sketchy foul shooting to hang on and defeat Mississippi State 77-74. After losing Joey Dorsey to his fourth foul the Tigers actually increased their lead, gaining the separation they ended up needing in the end. Friday's matchup with Michigan State promises to be a physical affair, and Mr. Dorsey needs to stay on the floor in that one as the Spartans have a couple different post options from which to choose. Here are the honors for the final day of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Team of the Day: North Carolina, top seed in the East
Result: Defeated #9 Arkansas 108-77 in Raleigh.
Wow. There really isn't much more you can say after watching a team put together back-to-back 100+ point games, something that hasn't been done in the NCAA Tournament since 1990. The Tar Heels were ready from the opening tap, jumping out to a 9-0 lead in a fashion similar to what a young Mike Tyson did to people back in 1985. Carolina, led by Wayne Ellington's twenty points, had five players reach double figures and shot 67.7% from the field. If they play like that from this point forward, everyone else may be playing for second place. They were that good today.
Other performances of note:
The Cardinals became the third Big East team to reach the Sweet 16, blowing out Oklahoma by thirty in Birmingham. Their win stopped the bleeding for the league, which took four straight hits after West Virginia beat Duke in Saturday's first game.
The ultra-tough early season schedule, which included close losses to UCLA, North Carolina and Duke, has paid dividends for Bob McKillop's squad. We'll see them in Detroit next weekend.
The key for Jay Wright and his team was to simply make the tournament. And once they found out they were in, it was time to make a move after a roller-coaster regular season due to their youth. Kansas will be a prohibitive favorite on Friday, but the Cats can give them all they want and then some.
Player of the Day: Davidson guard Stephen Curry
Numbers: 30 points, 5 assists in a 74-70 win over #2 Georgetown.
The sophomore guard has been the player of the tournament to this point, bouncing back from foul trouble to score twenty-five of his thirty points in the second half to send home one of the picks to possibly get to San Antonio. Curry has a basketball acumen that gets him to open areas of the floor, and even if the defender is right there his release is quick enough to render that moot. And he's been doing this for most of the year with an injured right (shooting) wrist that needs surgery when the season ends. The young man has been amazing all year, it's just that now he's got a national stage on which to strut his stuff.
Three other noteworthy performances:
Texas guard A.J. Abrams
Abrams went for twenty-six, and the Longhorns ended up needing all of those as they hung on to defeat Miami 75-72 in North Little Rock.
Western Kentucky guard Courtney Lee
Lee didn't have his best showing in the Hilltoppers' overtime win on Friday, but he definitely made up for it with twenty-nine points and seven rebounds in WKU's 72-63 win.
Mississippi State guard Jamont Gordon
The Bulldogs fell short in their rally against Memphis, but Gordon was one of the main reasons as to why they still had a chance late. He racked up 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but I'm sure he'd take a less impressive stat line if that meant a reversal of the 77-74 result.