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March 22, 2010
The First Weekend
A Delighted Look Back

Basketball Prospectus

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John Gasaway: Welcome, readers, to the latest of our periodic staff get-togethers here at the luxe Google-style campus that Prospectus maintains for us basketball types. I put the bagels and Hawaiian Punch out on the conference table, and sure enough my colleagues came running! So let's get right to it, shall we?

Man, what a weekend. I mean, where do we start?

Biggest surprise of the weekend
Ken Pomeroy: John, I'll get things tipped off with my choice for the biggest surprise of the past four days.

That one of the three-seeds didn’t make it through the weekend was not a surprise. According to log5, there was a staggering 47 percent chance of losing a three-seed in the first round. But what I will say is that I didn’t expect Georgetown to be that team, and furthermore for the Hoyas to not even be competitive. While everyone is rightly amazed at Cornell’s offensive numbers in their first two games, Ohio posted 1.30 points per possession against Greg Monroe and company. That was their second-best performance of the season, and the Hoyas’ second-worst.

Kevin Pelton: Well, I'll piggyback on Ken's point and say the biggest surprise to me was the overall no-show from the Big East. Villanova and Pitt might have been overseeded, but I didn't see anything in the numbers or in any of the games I watched to suggest that the same number of Big East teams would make the Sweet 16 this year as reached the Final Four 12 months ago. I don't think this tells us anything about the conference because of schedule, matchups and fortune (if Marquette makes one more three against Washington, the Eagles are probably still playing), but it still qualifies as a surprise.

Bradford Doolittle: Plenty to choose from here, but I have to go with Cornell. I felt like the Big Red was underseeded coming into the tournament, but it's remarkable that Cornell has put up 135.6 and 146.5 Offensive Ratings against the nation's fifth- and 20th-ranked defensive teams, respectively. I can't wait to watch them play Kentucky.

John Perrotto: Yeah, I'll second that. I wasn't on Cornell's bandwagon like a lot of people, and I certainly didn't think they would beat both Temple and Wisconsin so handily, especially since I had the Badgers going to the Final Four.

Gasaway: You know, it's a mark of how stunning--yes! stunning--the past four days truly were that no one has mentioned the small fact that a one-seed lost on the first weekend for the first time in six years. Though I guess I just did.

Most impressive player
Pelton: John, I'm going to suggest we move on to item 2 on our tastefully printed agendas, most impressive player. With apologies to Omar Samhan, Kansas State's Jacob Pullen had about as good a game as you're going to see against BYU despite a hip injury that appeared to bother him throughout. It would have been enough for Pullen to score 34 points on 8-of-15 shooting, dropping seven three-pointers and making all 11 of his attempts at the foul line. On top of that, Pullen stifled first-round hero Jimmer Fredette, limiting him to 5-of-13 shooting and coming up with four steals, twice picking Fredette clean off the dribble. Fear the Beard indeed.

Doolittle: Agree completely. Pullen has been fabulous. Seven three-pointers and 11 free throws made against BYU while doing a great job getting Fredette under wraps.

Pomeroy: Not to fold to peer pressure, but: Pullen! If only because you rarely see a player have an impact game on both ends of the floor the way he did against BYU. He was responsible for chasing Fredette on most possessions, and he also put up 34 points on just 15 FGAs and 11 FTAs. In a sport where the offensive star is often asked to do little on defense, the bearded one was K-State’s best player on both ends of the floor.

Perrotto: You know, on a subjective question like this, who is to say who's right and who's wrong? I am! You're all wrong! Omar Samhan of Saint Mary's. I can't get the song "Mr. Sandman" out of my head after watching him tear apart Richmond and Villanova.

Gasaway: Yes, but you see Samhan and, especially, Pullen plied their trade so well that their games didn't even come down to the final seconds. What fun is that? I'll go with Purdue's Chris Kramer, who according to published reports completely ignored Matt Painter's instructions on the game-winning play against Texas A&M yesterday. I don't know what the appropriate Raftery term is for free-lancing in the final seconds of OT in an NCAA tournament game, but "onions" is a step in the right direction.

Most impressive team
Perrotto: Uh, right. Interesting choice, John. Can't wait to see what you have for us here under item 3, most impressive team. I'm going with Cornell for reasons stated above.

Doolittle: Kansas State just keeps getting better. The way that Frank Martin's team defends and rebounds, if Pullen and Clemente keep stroking it the Wildcats are going to be tough to beat. A West final between Syracuse and K-State would be wildly entertaining.

Pomeroy: The way Kentucky systematically destroyed Wake Forest got my attention. Granted, I never understood why Wake was a tournament lock, but they’re clearly the equal of your average SEC team, and by halftime the game wasn’t in doubt. This was the first game where there was a chance (albeit small) that Kentucky’s season could have ended, and the Wildcats responded in a way that makes me wonder how much possum they were playing over their first 35 games.

Pelton (whiny voice): John, Ken's looking at my answers. I too will choose Kentucky here. All three surviving one-seeds played very well in both of their wins, but UK really stood out by treating Wake Forest as if the Demon Deacons were a 16-seed. Playing four freshmen key minutes doesn't seem to have hurt John Calipari's charges at all. Now the Wildcats will get a very different test from a Cornell team that has been shooting the lights out.

Gasaway: I too am on full Florida-2007 alert with the Wildcats, in terms of a team stocked with NBA-track talent that looks merely pretty good in SEC play but then suddenly decides, "You know, we think we want to win this national championship thing." But I have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. Perrotto on this one. The key phrase is NBA-track talent. The Ivy League, conversely, doesn't do the whole athletic scholarship thing. I'd say it's pretty impressive for a team of future bond-traders and attorneys to manhandle the best per-possession teams in the A-10 and Big Ten. John Wall is mere weeks away from filling NBA arenas, but someday soon one of these incredible Cornell shooters will be doing my taxes or straightening my kid's teeth.

Least impressive team
Pelton: OK, enough kudos. Let's go negative with our "least impressive team" award. This has to be Villanova, right? Let's look back on the Wildcats' late-season slide. 'Nova lost to Connecticut at home, but their other losses were a pair of three-seeds on the road, a one-seed on the road, a two-seed at home and a six-seed on a neutral court. Big East struggles aside, I don't see that as a sign Villanova was going to struggle to beat a 15 and fall to a 10. Scottie Reynolds' ill-timed slump has overshadowed the fact that his backcourt-mate Corey Fisher struggled too, scoring six points against Robert Morris and shooting 3-of-13 against Saint Mary's.

Pomeroy: I never expected Wisconsin to be Final Four-bound or anything, but to go out the way they did surprised me. Famously, they got abused by Cornell in epic fashion, but they needed a fair bit of good fortune to knock off Wofford in the first round, too. Post-season underachievement has become a pattern in Madison.

Perrotto: Georgetown. Getting beat by 14 points by a MAC team that no one thought had a chance to even win the conference tournament? Now that's called laying an egg. No offense to those Ohio Bobcats, mind you.

Gasaway: What he said.

Doolittle: You all took the easy route and picked on teams that are long gone. I'll stick with teams that are still alive and say that I'm not wowed by Tennessee. San Diego State should have beaten the Vols in the first round, then UT was the beneficiary of reality overtaking Ohio in the second round. I give them credit for playing good defense, but the lack of offensive weapons should doom them against Ohio State.

Likeliest low seed to continue its run
Pomeroy: Speaking of doom, let's talk about which low seed might be able to stave that off for a bit longer. I say the combination of talent level and bracket points to Northern Iowa. Once you’ve beaten Kansas, Michigan State in its current situation doesn’t figure to scare you too much.

Perrotto: Precisely. The Panthers showed they can play with anyone by beating KU, a win that wasn't a fluke. They're capable of beating Michigan State and the Ohio State/Tennessee winner to make a George Masonian run to the Final Four.

Doolittle: At the risk of being repetitive, I too will go with my new second-favorite team. The Panthers have won their last six games in St. Louis, where they host the Missouri Valley Tournament. Ken's numbers have the matchups with Michigan State as basically a toss-up, and I love UNI's chances to defend the Sparties and keep them off the offensive glass.

Pelton: Well, heck, I'll go against the grain here and say...Northern Iowa. Not only are the Panthers the best of this low-seed group, but by already knocking off the one-seed they guaranteed themselves a relatively easy match-up against a Michigan State team that will surely be without Kalin Lucas. That didn't slow the Spartans down against Maryland, but UNI should be able to slow MSU on the offensive glass.

Gasaway: A pox on your unanimity! Fie and woe! Washington, if for no other reason than to make Kevin feel guilty for not choosing his alma mater here. Also note that I have no idea what "fie" is, really. If something bad happens to any of you, my bad.

Favorite moment
Perrotto: And with that we arrive at the last item in our roundtable. Favorite first-weekend moment. I have a soft spot for Robert Morris because I covered the Colonials for many years. Thus, it was inspiring to see the gutty effort they gave before losing the heartbreaker to Villanova in OT in the first round. If ever a low-major coach was ready to cash in, it's Mike Rice.

Doolittle: I have to copy and paste Ali Farokhmanesh's name every time I write it, but his three-pointer in the final minute against Kansas was one of the ballsiest shots I've ever seen. Kansas had snatched the momentum, stealing seemingly every in-bounds pass with their press and finishing at the rim. The Jayhawks had drawn within one. Somebody on KU barely missed yet another steal, but that opened it up for Ali and he nailed it. The party line is that it was a bad play that looks good since he made the shot. I'm not so sure. I don't know if we can quantify it, but when you look at how KU was dug in on defense, how they were scoring on every possession, and then account for Ali's likely percentage hitting that uncontested shot, I don't think it was a dumb play. It was a winning play.

Pelton: Besides Washington reaching the Sweet 16? Ali Farokhmanesh pulling up for three with a little over 30 seconds left and a one-point lead. Cinderella plays to win. If that isn't what March Madness is all about, I don't know what is.

Pomeroy: Perhaps because it’s the most recent moment, but the ending to the Michigan State-Maryland game was great. And not just because there were four lead changes in the final minute. What I liked most was that there were three lead changes in the final 30 seconds without a stoppage in play. No monitor reviews, no time outs, just players making plays. And it was punctuated by the senior moment. Greivis Vasquez came a long way in his four years in College Park, from comic sideshow as a freshman to a fairly mature team leader as a senior. Vasquez did about all he could do to push Maryland into the round three, and then he had to face the end of his collegiate career after Korie Lucious made his shot.

Gasaway: Same play, different reason. I've already waxed poetic about the blissful lack of timeouts in that sequence, but what I absolutely adored was Delvon Roe ducking out of the way of the pass in the game's final seconds, so that Lucious could receive the ball and nail the game-winner. Roe somehow intuited that a pass above the three-point line with four seconds left in an NCAA tournament game was not actually his cup of tea. His "I'll just be going now" head-duck was priceless, strategically sound, and effective all at once. Sidekick-for-a-moment Delvon Roe, I salute you!

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