Afternoon observations from Day 2 action

March, 20, 2009
Here are some observations from Friday's late afternoon set of NCAA tournament games:

1. College basketball fans spent most of the season arguing about which conference was better: the ACC or the Big East? But through the first 1½ days of the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 has stolen the show.

Big 12 teams are a combined 6-0 in NCAA first-round games after Missouri routed Ivy League champion Cornell 78-59 on Friday in the West Region in Boise, Idaho.

At least three Big 12 teams have a pretty good shot of reaching the Sweet 16, too. South Region No. 2 seed Oklahoma plays No. 10 seed Michigan in the second round in Kansas City on Saturday, and Midwest Region No. 3 seed Kansas takes on No. 11 seed Dayton in Minneapolis on Sunday. Missouri, the No. 3 seed in the West, faces No. 6 seed Marquette on Sunday.

And don't be surprised if Texas, the No. 7 seed in the East, gives No. 2 seed Duke all it can handle in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday. Even though the Blue Devils are playing very close to home, I'm not sure their frontcourt players can handle supersized big man Dexter Pittman. But I'm betting Longhorns guard A.J. Abrams won't have as many open looks from behind the 3-point line as he did in Thursday night's 76-62 win over Minnesota, either.

Oklahoma State, the No. 8 seed in the East, will be a big underdog against 1-seed Pittsburgh in Dayton on Sunday, even after the Panthers struggled against Atlantic Sun champ East Tennessee State in the first round. And No. 9 seed Texas A&M would need a pretty remarkable effort to upset 1-seed Connecticut in the West Region in Philadelphia on Saturday. The Huskies were a 56-point winner over Southern Conference champ Chattanooga on Thursday.

2. Here's a perfect example of why Arizona State forward James Harden is one of the best players in the country. He shot the basketball miserably in the No. 6 seed Sun Devils' 66-57 victory over No. 11 seed Temple in the South Region in Miami on Friday. Harden, who averages more than 20 points per game, scored only nine on 1-for-8 shooting.

But Harden didn't force the issue, dishing the basketball to his teammates with hotter hands. Harden finished with seven rebounds, three steals and three assists. Harden has endured a few tough outings this season, but usually bounces back strong. He scored only nine points in a one-point win over IUPUI on Dec. 14, but then scored 30 in a 76-75 victory over BYU six days later. Harden scored only four points in a 61-49 loss at USC on Jan. 15, but had 24 in a 61-58 win at UCLA two days later.

Arizona State coach Herb Sendek will find ways to get Harden open for shots against Syracuse on Sunday, too. Many college coaches will tell you Sendek is one of the toughest matchups in postseason play because he doesn't need much time to come up with varied game plans.

3. What will the Atlantic Sun champion have to do to avoid a No. 16 seed? Last year, No. 15 seed Belmont nearly stunned No. 2 seed Duke, before losing 71-70 in the first round. On Friday, the No. 16-seeded Buccaneers gave Pittsburgh all it could handle in the first round.

The Panthers aren't the first team to avoid a first-round scare from ETSU, either. The Bucs lost to Cincinnati 80-77 in the first round in 2004 and fell to Wake Forest 76-73 in 2003. The Bucs have won one NCAA tournament game since 1969, beating Arizona 87-80 in the first round in 1992.

4. Dayton might have scored the biggest win in terms of bragging rights Friday. The Flyers had been 1-13 against Bob Huggins-coached teams, with most of the damage coming in his days as Cincinnati's coach. But the Flyers, who limped into the NCAAs having lost four of their past eight games, took a 4-3 lead and never trailed in a 68-60 victory over West Virginia.

5. Dayton officials were smart to reach an oral agreement with coach Brian Gregory for a five-year contract extension before the NCAA tournament started. The new deal would keep Gregory with the Flyers through the 2017-18 season. I'm guessing that oral agreement will become a written deal if the Flyers keep winning.

Another coach who will be a hot name for openings at Alabama and Georgia: Missouri's Mike Anderson. And Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant didn't hurt his stock by nearly leading the No. 11 seed Rams to an upset of No. 6 seed UCLA on Thursday night.



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