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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Tourney's early winners and losers

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

The first weekend of the NCAA tournament was Madness at its best. So wild you couldn't dream it, so dramatic you couldn't stand it.

But now we move on, and the heroes come and go fast at this stage. Jimmer Fredette, Armon Bassett, Ishmael Smith and Danero Thomas, you were kings for a day -- now you are so last week.

So before we kick eight more teams to the curb Thursday and Friday, let's take a breath and figure out the winners and losers to this point:

John Calipari
John Calipari's Wildcats are very happy with the results from the opening weekend of play.

Winner: Kentucky. The Wildcats now have the tournament laid at their feet. Kansas is gone. So are East Regional seeds 3 through 10. Just concluded are games against a No. 16 seed (East Tennessee State) and a faux No. 9 (Fake Wake Forest). Up next for a team with four first-round NBA draft picks is a date with a No. 12 seed that doesn't give athletic scholarships (Cornell). Following that could be a regional final with the No. 11 seed (Washington). The last time a team made a Final Four without facing a single opponent seeded in the top half of the tournament? Michigan State, 2001.

Meanwhile, Syracuse and its 2-3 zone, the object of much anxiety for Wildcats fans concerned about their team's perimeter shooting, were shuttled off to the opposite side of the bracket by the selection committee -- meaning Kentucky won't meet the Orange until the national title game. And when Big Blue fans weren't celebrating their Thursday-Saturday beatdowns, they were reveling in the first-round elimination of Rick Pitino and Louisville.

Loser: Anyone and everyone anticipating a Kentucky-Kansas national title showdown. That pairing of the two winningest college basketball programs of all time? Not going to happen. Sherron Collins-Cole Aldrich versus John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins? Nope. A rematch of the two adversarial coaches from the unforgettable 2008 national championship? Canceled.

Winner: West Coast basketball. By seeding and public acclamation, none of the schools in the Pacific-10 and West Coast conferences was expected to still be dancing -- yet one is from each league, Washington and Saint Mary's. Those two leagues are a combined 6-2 so far.

Loser: East Coast basketball. Yeah, we all know what a bust the Big East was during the first weekend -- six of eight teams out and five of them beaten by lower seeds. But save some scorn for the Atlantic-10, which saw Richmond and Temple both lose to lower-seeded teams. Only Xavier remains to carry the A-10 banner.

Winner: Big Ten. I'm not sure anyone out there expected this league to have more Sweet 16 teams than the Big East or the Big 12, but it has happened. Proof positive that the top of this league was very good -- just don't mention the bottom. Three Big Ten teams are still alive, even if two of them (Purdue and Michigan State) are limping thanks to key injuries at precisely the wrong time. The Boilermakers deserve special commendation for being here after a season-ending injury to Robbie Hummel a couple of weeks before the tournament started.

Loser: Mountain West Conference. Four teams entered, none remains. And neither New Mexico nor BYU came close to winning its second-round game.

Ali Farokhmanesh
Ali Farokhmanesh chose greatness when he decided to hoist a 3 late against Kansas.

Winner: Ali Farokhmanesh. By now, we've had three days to revel in the no-no-yes 3-pointer that the Northern Iowa guard hit to break No. 1 Kansas on Saturday night. But three days isn't nearly long enough for a jumper so momentous, so on we go. Consider this argument for why it should go down as the greatest early-round shot in NCAA tournament history:

When Bryce Drew, Tyus Edney, Ty Rogers, James Forrest, Drew Nicholas and Rolando Blackman hit their famous shots, there was no choice involved -- it was either shoot now or go home. There was no real risk of failure -- nobody was going to hold a miss against those players, given time and score implications. Greatness was thrust upon them.

Ali? He chose greatness -- and the potential censure that would have come with a miss. He made a completely voluntary decision to tee up a 3 with 30 seconds on the shot clock and 35 seconds in the game and his team holding a one-point lead. While on a personal seven-shot miss streak. With nobody there to rebound offensively. And the biggest tourney upset in years hanging in the balance.

Losers: Sherron Collins of Kansas, Scottie Reynolds of Villanova, James Anderson of Oklahoma State and Luke Harangody of Notre Dame. All four were All-Americans at some point -- preseason, midseason, postseason. None of the four played like it with his season on the line. Collins against Northern Iowa: 4-of-15, five turnovers. Reynolds in two NCAA games: 4-of-26 from the field. Anderson against Georgia Tech's long guards: 3-of-12, including misses on all six 3-point shots. Harangody in a one-point, first-round loss: four points on 2-of-9 shooting, zero free-throw attempts. Fellas, don't go checking any mock drafts until you've had a chance to do something to rectify your slipping status.

Winner: Offense. Teams won in the second round by putting the ball in the basket and pushing the tempo. Fourteen of 16 winners scored at least 65 points. Ten of 16 scored 75 or more. Seven scored 80 or more. And nobody's offense was more devastatingly productive than Cornell's. The Big Red blitzed the normally sound defenses of Temple and Wisconsin for 82.5 points per game, including an astounding 1.45 points per possession against the Badgers.

Loser: Ticket scalpers in St. Louis. All those Jayhawks fans just made other plans.

Lucious
The end of the Michigan State-Maryland game, with Korie Lucious launching the game-winning shot, was beautiful to behold.

Winner: Uninterrupted play. The end of Michigan State-Maryland was beautiful to behold because there were no whistles -- no timeouts, no fouls, just end-to-end basketball with playmakers doing their thing. There were three consecutive lead-changing baskets in the final 30 seconds without a single stoppage of play -- a rarity in these overly controlled times. Video shows Spartans coach Tom Izzo close to calling a timeout, then holding off just as Korie Lucious was hoisting his winning shot.

(This was one more example of why I'd love to see team timeouts reduced from five per game to three. But we all know you cannot sell as much beer, deodorant and car insurance by doing that.)

Loser: Flukes. If you can toss seeding aside, there really aren't any still playing. There isn't a single team in the Sweet 16 with double-digit losses, and the average win total is 28.7. The lowest-rated remaining team in Ken Pomeroy's ratings is Cornell at No. 45, and the other 15 all are in the top 35. The lowest-rated team in Jeff Sagarin's ratings is Cornell at No. 28. And the lowest-rated remaining team via RPI is Cornell at No. 46.

Winner: The Mideast Region. Can't find it on your bracket? Look a little harder. Northern Iowa sharpshooter Ali Farokhmanesh and Saint Mary's pivot master Omar Samhan are in the Sweet 16. Samhan is of Egyptian descent, and Farokhmanesh's dad is from Iran.

Loser: Indiana. It hurts the faithful enough that the Hoosiers were not close to being involved in this year's tournament. But then you look at who still is: former players Ben Allen (Saint Mary's) and Jordan Crawford (Xavier), former signee Devin Ebanks (West Virginia) and in-state chums Butler and Purdue. Bumpy.

Winner: Facial hair. We've seen beards make it through thick (Kansas State's Jacob Pullen, Xavier's Jason Love) and thin (Saint Mary's Omar Samhan). The Harley crowd must love the muttonchop sideburns of Northern Iowa's Lucas O'Rear. And the 'stache on Farokhmanesh's father, Mashallah, is of Borat quality.

Loser: African-American coaches. The sport that has carried the banner for diversity in hiring in college sports has just one black coach still working this season, Washington's Lorenzo Romar.

Winner: College basketball as a whole. Eleven conferences represented in the Sweet 16, allowing a larger-than-usual collection of conference commissioners to swagger around arenas for another weekend. Last year, only seven different conferences were still playing at this point. Viva diversity! Viva parity! Whatever you want to call it, celebrate it.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.