Before we focus our attention on the Sweet 16, here's a quick look back at some of the players, coaches and teams that made lasting impressions – both good and bad – during the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Darren Collison, UCLA guard – Understandably, there's been plenty of talk in the last 36 hours about the no-call that allowed the Bruins to hold on for a second-round victory against Texas A&M. The problem with the situation is that it's overshadowing another tremendous performance by Collison, who swished 5 of his 8 three-point attempts before making a difficult, game-winning layup in the final seconds. A quick aside: Imagine how lifeless things would've been in Phoenix this week if UCLA would've lost that game. The West Regional would've featured Texas A&M, Xavier, Western Kentucky and West Virginia. Ugh.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin coach – Tough not to be impressed with how crisp and efficient the Badgers looked in dismantling Kansas State in the second round. Credit for that should go to Ryan, one of the country's more underappreciated coaches. Wisconsin was one of the few teams all season to frustrate Wildcats forward Michael Beasley, who didn't get much help from Bill Walker. The Badgers are more than capable of beating Kansas in the Elite Eight, but first they have to worry about Davidson.
Washington State – Two nights after holding Winthrop to 40 points, the Cougars only allowed 41 in their 20-point victory over Notre Dame in the second round. The Fighting Irish entered the game averaging 80.6 points per contest. Leading scorer Luke Harangody made just 3 of his 17 field-goal attempts against Washington State's defense, which surrendered a measly 13 baskets to the Fighting Irish. "They imposed their will on us," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
North Carolina – The Tar Heels became the first team since Loyola Marymount in 1990 to score 100 or more points in its opening two NCAA tournament games. More and more, it's looking as if Roy Williams is destined for a showdown against his former school (Kansas) in the Final Four. I'm still not sure who I'd pick in that one.
Stephen Curry, Davidson guard – Don't even waste your time trying to find a player more deserving of MVP honors than Curry, who averaged 35 points in victories over Gonzaga and Georgetown. And while we're at it, don’t make the mistake of labeling the Wildcats as a "Cinderella " This team has won 24 straight games. Among its losses is a four-point setback against North Carolina, a six-point defeat to Duke and a 12-point loss at UCLA. I wouldn't be shocked at all if these guys beat Wisconsin.
Brandon Rush, Kansas guard – An NBA scout told me over the weekend that Rush – thanks to a great late-season showing – is well on his way to solidifying himself as a first-round pick in this summer's NBA draft. Rush is making tough shots, but the key is that he's taking them instead of resorting to the passive ways that defined his play early in the season. He’s also become a much better passer and offensive rebounder. It's hard to find a guard who elevates as high as Rush when snaring a board. For his career Rush is shooting 44.3 percent from three-point range. Kansas' school record is 44.6 by Milt Newton. Rush, though, has already made twice as many threes (200) as Newton (100) and has 247 more attempts.
South Region – No city will play host to a better weekend than Houston. Memphis takes on Michigan State on Friday before Texas plays Stanford. I'll go with the Longhorns over Memphis in the Elite Eight.
Portland State cheerleaders – I've bragged before about the squad at the University of Oregon. Now Portland State has fought its way into the mix. I guess my native Texas isn't the only hotbed for “talent.”
Clemson – No team was more disappointing than the Tigers, who had enough depth and talent to make a Final Four run. Instead – a few days after coach Oliver Purnell signed a contract extension – Clemson coughed up an 18-point lead in falling to No. 12 seed Villanova in the opening round. It's no wonder the Tigers hadn't been to the tournament in 10 years.
Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt coach – Stallings was a hot name for most of the season and was even mentioned as a possible candidate at Indiana. Something tells me he may have fallen off the Hoosiers' short list after a 21-point, opening round loss to No. 13 seed Siena.
Duke – Outrage over the Blue Devils' second-round loss to West Virginia was so vicious that one Duke message board had to be shut down for a day to give fans time to cool off. It was tough not to see this coming, though. Duke was one of the country's more overrated teams all season.
O.J. Mayo, USC guard – Mayo is a solid player, but he's nowhere near as good as some of the other top guards in his class such as Derrick Rose, Jerryd Bayless and Eric Gordon. Or at least he wasn't this season. Mayo hardly stood out in the Trojans' opening-round loss to Kansas State. Instead he was just another player who never went into attack mode when his team was struggling. Another year at USC would do Mayo a world of good, although it'd be tough to blame him if he left to become a first-round NBA draft pick.
Referees – I know being a zebra is a tough job and I can't understand why anyone would want to do it. Still, it's amazing that one crew can ruin the excitement of a game by calling 46 fouls (Kansas vs. UNLV) while another looks the other way while Texas A&M's Donald Sloan gets mauled on a game-tying shot attempt against UCLA.
Michael Beasley, Kansas State forward – It's unfortunate that the college career of the country's best player is likely over after one season. It would've been great to see Beasley match up against some of the country's top big men such as Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert or Tyler Hansbrough. Instead we'll have to watch him in the pros. Beasley is more NBA-ready than Kevin Durant was at this time last season. He'll have an immediate impact on whichever team is lucky enough to nab him with the first overall pick.
Trent Johnson, Stanford coach – Johnson needs to be thanking his lucky stars that the Cardinal regrouped and defeated Marquette in overtime after his ejection early in the first half. No matter how porous the call, you can't get yourself thrown out of a second-round NCAA tournament game – especially when you have a team talented enough to make the Final Four. Johnson has done an outstanding job this season, but Saturday's incident was inexcusable. Luckily for him it will be forgotten because of the victory.
Baylor – Sometimes it takes a bitter alum to tell it like it is so, in the wake of the Bears' embarrassing performance in an opening-round loss to Purdue, here's my take: The Bears had a nice little season and should be congratulated for making the NCAA tournament just five years after the murder of Patrick Dennehy by a teammate. But from now on, people need to stop giving head coach Scott Drew a free pass. Those who follow Baylor and the Big 12 closely aren't surprised the Bears finished in a tie for fourth place in the league standings. Baylor should be winning games. This isn't a team filled with no-names who were ignored by big-time programs. Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers, Henry Dugat and LaceDarius Dunn were pursued by Top 25 schools across the country. Tweety Carter was a McDonald's All-American. It's no surprise this talented, experienced team won 21 games. What's unfortunate is that they didn't win more. Drew was atrocious in close games all year and was grossly outcoached by Colorado's Jeff Bzdelik in the Big 12 tournament. His decision-making in an overtime loss at Oklahoma was dumbfounding. Another interesting stat: Baylor sold out its arena on four occasions this season and lost each time. They had a nice win against Notre Dame in November, but failed to beat another high-quality team all season. And, no, I don't consider Kansas State a high-quality team. Baylor was 2-6 against schools that finished in the top half of the Big 12. Bottom line: I'm in no way suggesting Drew isn't a good fit for Baylor or that he won't get it done there consistently. Still, even though he's shown he can recruit, Homer's son and Bryce's brother still hasn't proven he can coach.
- Michael Beasley
- Kansas State
- Darren Collison