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Watch and Recap - A Review of the NCAA Tourney
by Readers Columnist Corner (NCAA Basketball)
Posted on March 21, 2006, 1:58 PM

So the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over. For some of us, our brackets are now completely torn to shreds. For others, we still have some hope left. After another exciting weekend, one thing is for certain: This tournament brought some of the biggest scares to those who filled out brackets. And weíre not talking about those 7 vs 10, or 8 vs 9 match-ups, weíre talking about the 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, and 3 vs 14 match-ups. When most of America begins to fill out their brackets, we usually go right to penciling in the 1, 2, and 3 seeds to advance to the next round. Starting next year, however, some may be a little bit more hesitant to fill those picks in right away.

After being considered by many the favorites to win the National Championship, Connecticut struggled early, and were down by as many as 12 midway through the second half. Connecticut just didnít show up to play for the first ĺ of the game, which is something theyíve done many times this season. They were finally able to get their headís back on straight and win. Memphis also struggled against Oral Roberts early before pulling away late in the game. Other than blowouts by UCLA and Florida, every other game played by the 1-3 seeds in the 1st round was competitive. Even Southern kept the score respectable against Duke.

Then the second round came, and the mid-majors surprised us even more. George Mason ended North Carolinaís chance of a repeat, coming back from a half time deficit to win. Wichita St. beat an over-seeded Tennessee team, and Bradley jumped out to an early lead against Pitt, and stayed hot all game, gaining a victory in the process.

What does all of this tell us? It tells us that the days of the power conferences dominating the mid-majors are over. Mid-major conference teams are becoming more competitive each passing year, and are starting to hang with, and even beating, the power conferences. Itís time for teams from the ACC, SEC, and Big East to schedule more non-conference games against teams from the likes of the Missouri Valley, Colonial Athletic, and other mid-major conferences.

So after an exciting 1st weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over, hereís a breakdown of whatís happened so far, region by region.

ATLANTA REGION:

-From Big Ten Tourney Champions, to exiting in the 1st Round. This probably isnít the way Steve Alford pictured his NCAA Tournament going. Iowa had the chance to put this game away, and essentially did when they were up 17 points with 8 Ĺ minutes left. However, the Hawkeyes allowed Northwestern St. to get back in the game, and ended up losing on a last second shot. The question now for Iowa is: Will Steve Alford return as coach next year? Rumors are already circulating that heís a candidate for the Indiana job, were he played his college basketball.

-Another conference tournament champion, Syracuse, also proved to be a disappointment. Without Gerry McNamara, the Orange couldnít keep up with Texas A&M. The loss was a bad way to showcase McNamara in his last game. Heís done so much for Syracuse. From winning a National Championship, to carrying his team to a Big East Tournament Championship, he truly was a great player on the court, and a great man off the court. And for the record, he isnít overrated.

-Texas is for real. After squeaking by Penn, they completely decimated N.C. State, and now face a veteran West Virginia team in the Sweet 16. P.J. Tucker and Daniel Gibson are two outstanding players, and when there on, this team looks unstoppable. If they make it to the Elite 8 and play Duke, itíll sure be a lot closer than it was when they played in the regular season.

WASHINGTON D.C. REGION:

-The Wichita St. Shockers may have shocked some, but they didnít shock me. The Missouri Valley Conference regular season champs were the first to show that the days of power conferences dominating mid-majors are over. With some great shooting and stellar defense, Wichita St. put a whooping on Seton Hall, then fought their way to a win over a Tennessee team that many considered didnít deserve a two seed. If Wichita St. can keep up their aggressive play, that may cause more of a problem for North Carolina than some expect.

-What the heck happened to Michigan St? It looked like the Spartans never showed up in their game against George Mason. Michigan St. made it to the Final Four last year, and returned a group of core players from last years team, yet exit in the 1st round. But is this something we should have seen coming? The Spartans were very inconsistent all year, especially in the Big Ten, finishing 8-8 in conference play.

-North Carolina will be good, if not great in the near future with a great freshman class this past year. However, George Mason showed one way for teams to keep it close while playing North Carolina. By neutralizing Tyler Hansbrough in the 2nd half, the Tar Heels let a half time lead slip away. George Mason forced Hansbrough to catch the ball too far away from the paint for him to do anything, taking him away as a scoring threat.

-The question now for Connecticut is: Did their path to the Final Four get easier with UNC and Illinois getting knocked off, or did it get harder knowing theyíll be playing mid-majors who wonít back down? Of course, they still have to get past Washington and Brandon Roy.

MINNEAPOLIS REGION:

-Boston College must have switched teams on their plane ride, because they sure didnít look like the team that played in the ACC Tournament. They barely beat Pacific in game where they were outworked for 45 minutes of the game, before they started playing better defense and forced Pacific out of their game plan. Then the Eagles struggled early before pulling away against Montana. They sure didnít make people who picked them to go to the Final Four seem happy about their chances of making it there. (myself included)

-Floridaís Joakim Noah, if he stays in college until his senior year, will turn out to be one great basketball player. Noah was hyped by many as a player that would make a name for himself in this tournament. I was a little skeptical at first, but he proved to live up to the hype on this first weekend.

-Some may have liked Georgetownís chances from the beginning, but Iíll be the first to admit that they snuck up on me. I had them going out to Northern Iowa in the 1st round. John Thompson III, who already faced the pressure of living up to what his father did, has done a good job coaching this team, and the play of Roy Hibbert and Ashanti Cook has helped this team advance.

OAKLAND REGION:

-If UCLA was in the Big East, they would have received a lot more publicity during the season. Unfortunately, most of America is just learning about this great Bruins team now. UCLA has one of the best back court tandems in the country with Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. These two will cause problems for Gonzaga, a team that isnít great defensively. If UCLA can find a way to neutralize Adam Morrison the entire game, they should be able to get by the Zags and into the Elite 8.

-After seeing Bradley beat Kansas and Pittsburgh, I seriously think they have a shot at making a run to the Final Four. They beat a young but hot Kansas team, who were fresh off a Big 12 Tournament win, then beat a Pitt team that was a great, senior lead basketball team. Patrick OíBryant is a truly great player, especially the way he dominated Aaron Gray Sunday. Heíll be a problem inside for Memphis. The way this team played some lock down defense, and not be intimidated by the big schools, makes me a believer in them.

-Indiana coach Mike Davis coached his last game Saturday. He resigned do to the pressure he was put under to win, but he should find a coaching job somewhere else. He lead his team to the National Championship game in 2002, and brought his team back to make the NCAA Tournament this year. Heís a proven winner, and well liked by his players. He should be a top many list of teams looking to fill their head coaching vacancy.

Thereís a reason we call this time of year March Madness. Every game is so unpredictable, you never know who will win. Every team brings their A-game to the tournament, and you know that both teams on the floor will never disappoint. We always fall in love with the Cinderella teams that make it to the next weekend, knowing that this may be their only shot at glory. Every time a shot goes up, it seems like a period of time passes through our heads, as we wait to see if the shot will go in or not. The NCAA Tournament is the time where 65 teams take us on a magical ride, sometimes stealing, sometimes breaking our hearts. But when itís all set and done, we know that weíve seen something truly special take place.



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