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The Dagger

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

His team may not be advancing to the Sweet 16, but that certainly can't be blamed on Khalif Wyatt. The Temple guard scored 31 points in both of the Owls' two NCAA tournament games, the first a 76-72 victory over NC State and the second a taut 58-52 loss to Indiana. If highlighting a player whose team was ousted rubs you wrong, there are other deserving candidates. Kansas would not still be playing without contributions from Jeff Withey on both ends, nor would Marquette without the late-game heroics of Vander Blue.

A national TV audience was waiting for Nate Wolters to channel Stephen Curry and lead South Dakota State to a memorable upset of fourth-seeded Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Instead Wolters endured one of the more miserable games of his otherwise excellent college career. The senior guard and potential NBA draft pick managed only a quiet 10 points on 3 of 14 shooting in a 71-56 loss to the Wolverines.

[Slideshow: Best photos of the NCAA tournament]

With a 10-3 overall NCAA tournament record and four teams in the Sweet 16, the Big Ten validated its season-long status as the best conference in college basketball. Michigan and Michigan State advanced to the Sweet 16 in convincing fashion and Ohio State and Indiana joined them by surviving tense, back-and-forth round of 32 games. Of the three Big Ten schools eliminated, only Wisconsin lost to an opponent with a worse seed.

The Mountain West was deserving of the hype it received during the season as one of the strongest leagues in the nation. The Mountain West is also deserving of its reputation for underachieving in the postseason. Despite earning five NCAA tournament bids and finishing second in conference RPI, the Mountain West went 2-5 and failed to put a single team in the Sweet 16. League champ New Mexico fell to Harvard, talented but enigmatic UNLV lost to Cal and San Diego State squandered a chance at the Sweet 16 against Florida Gulf Coast.

The most surprising survivor of the opening weekend is a team that has now accomplished something none of its predecessors ever have. Florida Gulf Coast became the only No. 15 seed ever to win more than one game when it defeated second-seeded Georgetown and seventh-seeded San Diego State. The six previous No. 15 seeds to win a tournament game lost their round of 32 matchup by an average of 15 points apiece. Only 1997 Coppin State even managed to get within single digits, falling 82-81 to 10th-seeded Texas.

Thanks to the star power on the sideline and on the floor, the Sweet 16 matchup that will feel most like a potential Final Four game pits Duke against Michigan State in the Midwest Regional semifinals. The second-seeded Blue Devils ousted Albany and Creighton to advance to the round of 16. The third-seeded Spartans dusted Valparaiso and Memphis to earn a crack at Duke. The last time the two programs met, Duke eked out a 74-69 win over the Spartans in Nov. 2011.

The proof that this has been an excellent tournament so far is there are plenty of options from which to choose for this category. For shock value, there's Florida Gulf Coast beating Georgetown or Harvard stunning New Mexico. For late-game drama, there's Marquette escaping Butler and La Salle out-dueling Ole Miss. But the best combination of what makes an NCAA tournament game great may have been Ohio State's 78-75 victory over Iowa State on Sunday afternoon. Between game-winning shots, controversial calls and high-energy, back-and-forth action, this game had it all.

There were worse mismatches than VCU-Michigan in the opening two rounds, but no other game was more overhyped. The Rams and Wolverines have been a pleasure to watch all season except when they played each other. Unable to force turnovers or generate stops against Michigan's formidable backcourt, VCU fell behind by double digits in the first half and never recovered. The Wolverines rolled to a 78-53 victory that was unwatchable for those outside Ann Arbor by the first TV timeout of the second half.

If it wasn't already clear Oregon was seeded four to five lines too low on Selection Sunday, the 12th-seeded Ducks left no doubt this week. They outclassed fifth-seeded Oklahoma State and throttled fourth-seeded Saint Louis, advancing to their first Sweet 16 since 2007. How the committee awarded Oregon a No. 12 seed remains a mystery. The Ducks started 18-2 before their starting point guard got hurt, defeated UNLV, Arizona and UCLA twice and won the Pac-12 tournament once Dominic Artis returned.

It was nice that Middle Tennessee got an opportunity to show what it could do after a 28-win regular season, but the Blue Raiders didn't perform like a team that belonged in the field in its 67-54 First Four loss to Saint Mary's. That surely didn't ease complaints in Charlottesville, Knoxville or Tuscaloosa that Middle Tennessee hadn't done enough to earn a bid in the first place. The Blue Raiders' gaudy record included only one victory over an NCAA tournament team, a 65-62 win against Ole Miss.

1. The signature play of Florida Gulf Coast's stunning upset of Georgetown was a daring alley-oop from Brett Comer to Chase Fieler. The safe play would have been to milk the clock with Georgetown charging back from an 18-point deficit, but Comer's aggressive decision fits with the Eagles' confident, swashbuckling style.

2. Unable to play in last year's NCAA tournament while recovering from his third major knee injury, Indiana's Maurice Creek finally got to experience March Madness firsthand on Friday against James Madison. Creek logged four minutes once the game was in hand to the delight of Indiana fans, grabbing a rebound and missing two shots.

3. If it's true someone's character is revealed after a loss, then Jamaal Franklin is all class. As Florida Gulf Coast was celebrating its win Sunday, the San Diego State star took time to seek out Eagles senior leader Sherwood Brown, wish him good luck and encourage him to lead his team as deep into the tournament as possible.

1. Charles Barkley is terrific on TNT's NBA coverage because of his combination of wit and knowledge, but having him be part of the NCAA tournament studio show the past couple years has been hit and miss. Case in point: his week-long insistence that the Big Ten is overrated even after it put four teams in the Sweet 16.

2. If there's any team that did not deserve to have a bad block-charge call go against them at a key moment, Iowa State might be at the top of that list. The Cyclones already endured a game-changing no-call against Kansas on a potential charge. Then Sunday they had a charging call go against Will Clyburn, negating a late three-point play.

3. It was tough to watch 14th-seeded Davidson waste 39 great minutes against Marquette with a horrendous final minute. The Wildcats had led virtually the entire game before allowing the third-seeded Golden Eagles to rally from five down with 30 seconds to go and win on a Vander Blue layup.

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