Georgetown’s loss on Thursday was extremely disappointing, and I’m not going to rehash it here. True college basketball fans, however, know that March Madness is the best time of the year and avidly follow the tournament, no matter how their favorite team fares. So let’s move on from our disappointment, reflect on the weekend’s developments and preview next weekend’s games – with so much to talk about, we’ll do four points instead of the usual three.
1. This has been the most exciting NCAA tournament in recent memory.
Out of 48 games played so far, six have ended with game-winning shots in the final five seconds. That is remarkable – fans are lucky if an entire tournament has three or four such games. The six game-winners include two unforgettable buzzer-beaters, with Murray State defeating Vanderbilt 66-65 on Danero Thomas’ jumper and Michigan State’s Korie Lucious nailing a three as time expired to defeat Maryland 85-83. The ending to the Michigan State-Maryland game will go down in tourney lore, as four (four!) go-ahead shots were made in the final 39 seconds.
And while everyone will remember Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh burying a three to put away No. 1 overall seed Kansas, no one should forget what he did two days before to earn Northern Iowa a date with the Jayhawks. With the game tied at 66, Farokhmanesh swished a 25-foot three-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining to defeat UNLV. Moments like these are the essence of what makes March Madness great.
2. Cinderellas are stealing the spotlight at the Big Dance.
If someone had said before the tournament that traditional powerhouses Kansas, Villanova, Georgetown and Wisconsin would not survive the first weekend and mid-majors Northern Iowa, St. Mary’s, Butler and Cornell would advance to the Sweet 16, we would have justifiably questioned his or her sanity. But that scenario is exactly what played out, and we – if not our brackets – should be thankful for these Cinderellas.
All four of these teams won their league’s automatic bids and went a combined 107-17 in the regular season, meaning they were accustomed to winning games. People may claim that the regular season in college basketball essentially means nothing, but it allows teams to develop a winning mentality that can pay off in March. These four teams shouldn’t be taken lightly – they’ve shown they have no reason to be intimidated by anyone.
3. Cornell-Kentucky is the ultimate David vs. Goliath.
Cornell, one of the aforementioned Cinderellas, will need its slingshot when it takes on John Calipari’s Kentucky squad. The Ivy League school will be taking on a perennial powerhouse that happens to be the highest-ranked and most talented team left in the tournament.
Look at the contrasts. Kentucky has arguably the best player in the country in 6-foot-4 point guard John Wall, a freshman and the likely No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft. Cornell’s point guard is 5-foot-11 Louis Dale, a four-year senior who will not be drafted at all.
Kentucky’s center, DeMarcus Cousins, was the No. 2 overall recruit in the country (behind Wall). He will be matched up against Cornell center Jeff Foote, who wasn’t even recruited by Division III schools and ended up walking on at St. Bonaventure before transferring to Cornell.
Cornell relies entirely on a half-court offense dependent on chemistry, timing and outside shooting. Kentucky, on the other hand, likes to get out in transition and uses a dribble-drive offense in which the Wildcats rely on guards Wall and Eric Bledsoe to break down the defense with their speed and athleticism.
While Kentucky is more likely to win, this game is not a lock by any means. If Cornell can slow down the tempo and knock down its jump shots, the Big Red could pull off the mother of all upsets.
4. Watch Omar Samhan and Ekpe Udoh go at it.
If Kansas and Georgetown had both made it to the Elite Eight as many predicted, the nation would have been treated to a battle between Cole Aldrich and Greg Monroe, two of the best big men in the country. While that matchup didn’t come to fruition, the two best big men remaining in this tournament will face off on Friday night, and their names would have been unrecognizable to virtually everyone a week ago: St. Mary’s Omar Samhan and Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh.
Samhan is a 6-foot-11, 260-pound center with methodical but effective post moves. Having averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game during the regular season, Samhan has taken his game to an even higher level during the first two rounds of the tourney, putting up 61 points and 19 rebounds on an astounding 16-of-24 from the field. Few would argue against the fact that he has been the most dominant player of the tournament so far.
Udoh is a lanky 6-foot-10, 240-pounder with long arms and explosive athleticism. On the year, Udoh is putting up 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per contest, and he dominated Sam Houston State in the first round with a 20-point, 13-rebound, five-assist performance.
Samhan is the stronger of the two, but Udoh is quicker and will use his length to contain Samhan in the post and shoot over him on the offensive end. Look for Udoh and Baylor to have the edge and knock out St. Mary’s in front of a Bear-friendly crowd in Houston.
Parimal Garg is a junior in the College. Three-Point Play appears in every other Tuesday issue of Hoya Sports.