What a whirlwind weekend.  One that began in earnest last Tuesday with the “Tournament is absolutely worthless minus these games” First Four to the extension of an NIT run.  Add in the less than healthy food…and we’re ready to sort things out…

Conference Call:  the ACC gets a record SIX teams in the Sweet Sixteen.  Of course, six schools in a 15 team league is the equivalent of 4 in an 10-team league…and unlike the Big East in 2011 the Selection Committee didn’t force the league to feed on its own (Syracuse-Marquette and UConn-Cincinnati) in the round of 32.  Still, having six of seven schools in the field advance to the second weekend is impressive.  Other leagues in the mix:  three from the Big Ten, three from the Big 12, plus one from the Big East, West Coast, SEC and Pac-12 Conferences.

Coach on the Set:  Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings did a nice job with the “backup” studio crew, but weren’t his Commodores eliminated five minutes before he got mic’d up?  Did he go straight from the postgame press conference to the set?  I have no issues with current coaches providing analysis for the studio shows, but can’t we wait a week for the corpse of the season to get cold?

Upsets?  Depends on your definition:  true, 13 lower seeds won First Round games and consensus favorite Michigan State not only lost but never led Middle Tennessee.  But after the weekend cleared…all four of the #1’s and 10 of the top 16 seeds advanced to the second weekend (with two exceptions being #5’s Indiana and Maryland, and a 4-5 matchup is essentially a coin-flip game).  The “lower seeds”?  A Wisconsin that went to the title game last April and a Notre Dame that almost beat Kentucky in the Regional Finals.  The two double digit seeds to survive so far?  Household names Syracuse (2003 champ, 2013 Final Four and the world’s most famous nose-picker as coach) and Gonzaga (who owns the fourth longest current NCAA appearance streak).

 

Maryland (27-8) is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003.  Get your mind around that.  From 1994 to 2003 the Terps advanced to the tournament’s second weekend seven times.  Yes, they benefitted from Cal’s starting guard breaking his wrist in practice last week before the Golden Bears lost to Hawaii.  Yes, they shot 1-for-18 from three point range against the Rainbow Warriors.  Yes, a Hawaii player actually grabbed a rebound while lying on his back.  But a Regional Semifinal berth is theirs thanks to two efforts that were just good enough…with Jake Layman and Jared Nickens torching South Dakota State Friday (combining for 41 points while shooting 9-16 from three point range) and the backcourt of Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon setting the tone against Hawaii.  Trimble’s getting the calls in the NCAA’s he wasn’t in Big Ten play…and is responding by hitting 22 of 23 free throws.  The reward for reaching the round of 16?  Overall #1 seed Kansas…(gulp).

 

Virginia (28-7) reaches the Regionals for the second time in three years…and won’t have the Ghost of Spartans past this March.  The Cavaliers did suffer a scare against upset-minded Butler (trailing 25-23 at the half) before prevailing 77-69.  Even though they shot 72% in the second half, UVa needed stops in the final minute (the Bulldogs went 0-3 while missing 1 of 2 free throws down the stretch) to survive.  Anthony Gill (19 points in each win) and Malcolm Brogdon (11 against Hampton, 22 against Butler) were joined by sophomore guard Marial Shayok (12 pts against Bulldogs after scoring 10 against the Pirates).  Shayok’s sudden production is somewhat of a surprise, as he scored in double figures just once in the ACC regular season (and that was against Wake Forest).  Iowa State should be a much tougher test Friday.

 

VCU (25-11) couldn’t contain the nation’s best player, coughing up 36 points to Buddy Heild (19 in the games final 8 minutes) as the Rams fell to Oklahoma 85-81.  They gave the 2nd seeded Sooners all they could handle, putting 50 points on the board in the second half before coming up short.  Senior Melvin Johnson scores 23 points…finishing with 1,657 in his career.  The foundation is in place for continued success under Will Wade:  JaQuan Lewis grew in his role as the catalyst on both ends of the floor.  Havoc continues to reside in Siegel Center.

 

Virginia Tech (20-15) lost last Friday in the second round of the NIT at BYU;  no worries if you didn’t notice the game buried amidst the last-minute wreckage of Texas and Cincinnati.  Not to go unnoticed was the leap made by the Hokies this season:  Buzz Williams still has quite a bit of work to do, but this is a completely different world than the mess he inherited.  Just one senior (forward Shane Henry averaged under nine minutes per game) departs…with juniors Zach LeDay and Seth Allen leading a rapidly maturing nucleus back to campus next fall.  It’s morning again in Blacksburg…

 

George Washington (25-10) moves within one step of Madison Square Garden…bouncing Monmouth in the second round of the NIT behind 22 points and 12 rebounds for Tyler Cavanaugh.  This will be his team next winter, and the junior is enjoying his final weeks with seniors Kevin Larsen, Patricio Garino and Joe McDonald.  The Colonials clash with Florida Wednesday in the Quarterfinals.

 

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