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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

The best and worst of the NCAA tournament’s opening week

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Just because six of the NCAA tournament's top eight seeds survived the opening week doesn't mean this year's Sweet 16 lacks surprises.

Five teams seeded eighth or higher have advanced to the NCAA tournament's second weekend, a group that includes last year's runner-up Butler, major-conference surprise teams Florida State and Marquette, and city rivals Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth.

We'll have plenty of time to examine the Sweet 16 matchups and offer some revised Final Four projections in the next few days. Let's first take a look at some of the best and worst of the NCAA tournament's opening week.

Player who shined in the spotlight: Butler's Matt Howard may have a game-winning putback and free throw and Florida's Erving Walker has his late heroics against UCLA, but Jimmer Fredette is the face of this NCAA tournament for a reason. Shrugging off the pressure on him to meet expectations, the BYU star had 32 points and seven assists against Wofford and 34 and six against Gonzaga, propelling the Cougars to their first Sweet 16 in three decades.

Player who faded in the spotlight: Why did sixth-seeded Xavier struggle to even be competitive in its opening-round 66-55 loss to Marquette? Mostly because its best player simply didn't perform to his usual high standard. Point guard Tu Holloway, who averaged 20.2 points per game and carried the injury-plagued Musketeers to another Atlantic 10 title this year, managed just five points on 1-for-8 shooting against the Golden Eagles. {YSP:MORE}

Conference that has excelled: Three teams in the Sweet 16 isn't exactly a rarity for the ACC, but consider that the league endured a down season and only landed four NCAA tournament bids this year. Duke, North Carolina and Florida State have each advanced, giving the ACC more Sweet 16 teams than any other league in the nation.

Conference that was exposed: Despite sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament, the Big East only has two left: 11th-seeded Marquette and third-seeded Connecticut. Even more embarrassingly, those two teams advanced by beating other Big East teams in the round of 32. Not so fortunate were Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville, all top-four seeds that failed to make the Sweet 16.

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Most surprising Sweet 16 team: Of the five teams seeded eighth or higher to advance to the Sweet 16, the biggest surprise is VCU. The 11th-seeded Rams, one of the most controversial teams to even make the NCAA tournament, won a First Four game against USC on Wednesday, a Round of 64 game against Georgetown on Friday and a Round of 32 game over Purdue on Sunday to advance to their first-ever Sweet 16.

Most surprising early exit: Even though Pittsburgh has a history of NCAA tournament flameouts, who would have thought the top-seeded Panthers wouldn't even make the Sweet 16 after receiving what appeared to be a favorable draw? The Big East champion bowed out Saturday against eighth-seeded Butler, extending the school's Final Four drought another year.

Best game: Saturday's Butler-Pittsburgh game was already on the verge of becoming a classic even before the wild drama of the final seconds. First Andrew Smith's go-ahead layup with less than three seconds left appeared to give the Bulldogs a win. Then Shelvin Mack's inexplicable foul at midcourt gave Pittsburgh the chance to steal it. And finally a second even more baffling last-second foul on Nasir Robinson enabled Matt Howard to sink the game-winning foul shot.

Worst game: If Florida State-Texas A&M was the only first-round game available in your market in years past, you probably would have either spent those two hours running errands or hunched over your laptop watching another game. Fortunately, three other games were available on other channels this year, so everyone besides Aggies and Seminoles fans were able to find another matchup to watch.

Biggest upset: The only team seeded 13th or lower to win a game was Morehead State, which toppled fourth-seeded Louisville on Thursday afternoon. Demonte Harper sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds left and Kenneth Faried sealed the one-point win by blocking Mike Marra's jumper as time expired, giving the Eagles an improbable win over an in-state juggernaut that has long overshadowed them.

Biggest beatdown: Maybe Florida got tired of hearing that it didn't deserve its No. 2 seed because the Gators took out their frustration on poor 15th-seeded UC Santa Barbara in a round of 64 game on Thursday night. Florida shot 58.1 percent in the first half and led 43-19 at the half en route to a 79-51 throttling of the Gauchos.

Team that deserved a higher seed: Richmond's No. 12 seed was a sham even before it waylaid Vanderbilt and ousted Morehead State to reach its second-ever Sweet 16. The Spiders (29-7) defeated Purdue in nonleague play, went 13-3 in the Atlantic 10 and defeated Rhode Island, Temple and Dayton to win the conference tournament.

Team that didn't belong in the field: Instead of taking advantage of its opportunity to prove it belonged in the NCAA tournament, UAB rolled over against Clemson in the inaugural First Four game on Tuesday night. The Blazers to their credit won Conference USA's regular-season title and boasted an RPI of 31, yet their most noteworthy victories came against VCU and Arkansas, and they had suffered losses to the likes of East Carolina and Arizona State.

Best career-ending soliloquy: Here's how teary-eyed Morehead State senior Kenneth Faried responded when asked about his emotions after Saturday's loss to Richmond:  "I never had time to look back. But now I get the chance to, so, I'm going to miss it. I mean, Morehead is now my second home. I'm going to miss each and every last person that came out and supported us. I'm going to miss my teammates, playing with them, having a great time. ... I'm going to miss being coached as hard as I was by coach Tyndall. Even though it was hard, it helped me."

Worst career-ending soliloquy: We'll never know how Jacob Pullen would have responded to a similar question to the one Faried received because Kansas State coach Frank Martin instead yanked the spotlight from his senior by scolding the reporter who asked it. "That is what you wanted to see?" Martin said as emotion overcame Pullen. "That what you were trying to get out of him? Make him cry here in front of people? Good question."

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