Saturday, March 19, 2005

Round Two Brings Excitement

I've always looked forward to the first Saturday of the Tournament more than any other day. Part of the reason is that until this year, I'd never once had either the Thursday or Friday off, so Saturday was my first chance to see games all day. Along those same lines, there are only half the games played, so CBS has less of a chance to screw you over with mismanaged feeds (although they still managed today when I saw a total of 43 seconds of a wild BC vs. UW-Milwaukee game). Finally, the quality of the games goes way up. You may not have the extreme upsets that come with round one, but you get more well-played games and fantastic finishes. We certainly weren't disappointed today. Here are thoughts on Saturday's action:

- Best game of the day was obviously the double OT thriller between West Virginia and Wake. Incredible effort by both teams that came down to the Mountaineers have more viable options. First, some praise for the Wake guys: Eric Williams for staying out of foul trouble and for making the third biggest "time expiring" block I can remember (behind Mourning's against Princeton and my boy Cedric Suit against San Diego a few years back ... sorry, that one is a little inside), Chris Paul for playing his heart out and cementing his status as a top-3 pick in next year's NBA draft, and Taron Downey for making three of the biggest shots I can remember. And for the victors: D'or Fischer for having a career game at the best possible time, J.D. Collins for shaking off a rough first half and controlling the comeback in regulation, Tyrone Salley for going 21-4-4 with ONE MISS in the entire game (7-8 from the field, 5-5 from the line ... not to mention the block and dunk in round one that got them here), Kevin Pittsnoggle for coming big after being pulled, Darris Nichols for blocking a shot and hitting a huge jumper after Collins fouled out, and Mike Gansey for throwing up 29 and 7 and playing the game of this life. One of the best team efforts and one of the best coaching jobs I've seen in several years.

- Worst game of the day (that I saw) was Utah-Oklahoma. The Utes are the luckiest team in the dance so far, as they got a UTEP team that wasn't ready for prime time and a Sooners club that simply crapped the bed. Contrary to Dan Bonner's relentless praise for Andrew Bogut (or, as Charles Barkley calls him, Andrew Boo-got), the three reasons Utah won were: 1) Justin Hawkins going for 20 and 14, Mark Jackson hitting four of five from downtown, and Oklahoma going on unfathomable 2-19 from three. Bogut's solid 10-11-7 comes in a distant fourth. Was he good? Yeah, he was solid. But he was hardly THE reason they won. I hate when announcers pick one guy to hype no matter what happens (Chris Duhon, anyone?). To hear Dan Bonner tell it, Justin Hawkins was a little toddler getting lifted up by Andrew Bogut so that he could set the ball in the basket.

- Okay, these need to get shorter. Worst choke goes to the Zags ... there is no excuse for that kind of collapse. I also want to note that I've got love for Adam Morrison, Ronald Ross, and Jarrius Jackson for bringing back the mid-range jumper.

- Cinci-Kentucky was the most intense second round game I can remember. Extremely physical, almost violent, and incredibly exciting. Too bad the Bearcats ran out of gas down the stretch because that was shaping up to be a finish for the ages.

- Almost forgot ... my search for a favorite frosh point guard is over. Rajon Rondo of Kentucky is my guy. 16 points on 7 shots to go with 7 assists and 3 steals. Nice. (A nod to freshman big man Randolph Morris - who Dick Enberg called simply "Randolph" the entire game - for posting his first double-double and changing the complexion of the game in the second half.)

- Illinois looked good today and what really stood out was how good of a coach Bruce Weber is. First, he quickly noted that James Augustine was having a great start, so he let his power forward (a 60% FT shooter) take two technicals. Augustine hit them and went on to have a career game. Later, his backup power forward, Jack Ingram, made a major blunder, but Weber kept him in ... even though Ingram was due to come out anyway. He called Augustine back to the bench and allowed Ingram to make a nice play and restore his confidence before making the substitution. Great work on the bench.

- Good day for the Pac-10 as both Arizona and Washington demolished their opponents. No one's saying anything now, but these were supposed to be dangerous games for each team.

- Finally, great work by the Panthers of UW-Milwaukee. They play extremely hard and have a great coach in Bruce Pearl.

See you tomorrow.

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