Final impressions from first weekend
As the field narrowed from 68 to 16, we had writers at every site to document it all. Here are three final impressions from each before we move on to the regional semifinals:
Andy Katz from Albuquerque
1. Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor is the most recognizable name on the Badgers' roster, but Ryan Evans is the unsung star of this team. Evans sets the tone for UW early and often. Bo Ryan maximizes his talent maybe more than any other coach. The Badgers get criticized often for their lack of scoring and boring style. Well, they play the game right, limit mistakes and pile up a ton of wins every season. I'm guessing Wisconsin fans don't find that boring.
2. Baylor is constantly lauded for its length, athleticism and overall entertaining style. But it's clear the Bears will only advance to the Final Four if Brady Heslip makes 3s. Baylor leaves Albuquerque as the lone serious challenger to Kentucky in the South Regional -- that I'm convinced of. But Heslip has to be on. Simple as that.
3. Vanderbilt and Colorado can leave New Mexico with their heads held high. The Commodores finally got an SEC tournament title over Kentucky and nothing will take that away from Kevin Stallings and his program. Vandy had a shot to beat Wisconsin but John Jenkins simply didn't knock it down. He was open. He missed. It happens. But it shouldn't sour what ended up being a successful season. The SEC tournament title will resonate for quite some time. As for Colorado, it was the surprise champion of the Pac-12 tourney and the last team standing from its new conference. The Buffs knocked off UNLV and had a second-half lead on the Bears. Despite losing a few key seniors, there's a quiet optimism in Boulder as the young nucleus will be joined by a stellar recruiting class. Things are looking up at CU.
Myron Medcalf from Columbus
1. Michigan State's Draymond Green won't stop without a trip to New Orleans. He's on a mission. There are certainly more talented teams in the field, but none as driven. And it starts with Green. He had a triple-double against LIU Brooklyn. And he proved why he's the most versatile player in America when he played point guard in the second half of his team's win over Saint Louis on Sunday. I don't see any squad getting past Kentucky, but with Green in charge and Tom Izzo on the sideline, anything seems possible right now.
2. I like North Carolina State's potential to upset Kansas in the Sweet 16. The Wolfpack are long, athletic, talented and motivated. C.J. Leslie has always been an elite prospect, but he's been a consistent catalyst for Mark Gottfried's squad during the NCAA tournament. NC State has finally realized how good it can be if its energy level is consistent. Watch out for the Pack.
3. The Columbus matchups offered proof that looks can be deceiving, especially in March. Memphis had more length and athleticism than any team here. And yet the Tigers were baffled by a more disciplined, albeit undersized Saint Louis squad.
Mark Schlabach from Greensboro
1. Even if point guard Kendall Marshall doesn't return from a fractured right wrist, North Carolina is still capable of reaching the Final Four. The Tar Heels will have to play differently than they did when Marshall was on the floor; there isn't another point guard on their roster capable of running Carolina's potent break. But with Tyler Zeller, John Henson and James Michael McAdoo in its frontcourt, UNC is more than equipped to pound opponents in the paint.
2. Marshall might be North Carolina's most indispensable player because he's a reliable point guard who can score -- and because the Heels have already lost backup point guard Dexter Strickland to a season-ending knee injury -- but Henson is Carolina's best player. If there's a silver lining for UNC, it's that Henson was dominant against Creighton after returning from a wrist injury.
3. Can Xavier and Cincinnati and the rest of us finally put that Dec. 10 brawl in the rearview mirror? Both teams were punished with multiple suspensions and public scorn. Now both are tough outs in the Sweet 16. It's amazing how quickly we forgot the Musketeers were ranked No. 8 in the country before the frightening incident.
Brian Bennett from Louisville
1. Kentucky is still the favorite. The Wildcats' first two tournament games did nothing to dispel the notion that they're the team to beat. They shot better than 55 percent in wins over Western Kentucky and Iowa State and got a confidence-building performance from point guard Marquis Teague on Saturday night. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's offense has disappeared, but he's still rebounding and playing defense. If UK can make outside shots like it did against Iowa State, it will be nearly unstoppable.
2. Marquette is on a mission. The Golden Eagles were very impressive in dispatching challenges from BYU and Murray State on their way to a second straight Sweet 16. This team doesn't get rattled down the stretch thanks to leadership from Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder and should be a tougher out than last year, when it got blown out by North Carolina in the regional semifinal. Don't be surprised to see Marquette in New Orleans.
3. Iowa State is on the way up. In their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, the Cyclones took out defending champion Connecticut before running into the Kentucky buzz saw. Royce White was the most unstoppable player in Louisville all weekend and might have secured himself a first-round spot in the NBA draft. But if he decides to come back for his junior year, he'll get help next season from transfers Korie Lucious (Michigan State) and Will Clyburn (Utah). Fred Hoiberg's team could be one of the top contenders in the new-look Big 12.
Chris Low from Nashville
1. Yes, it may be obvious, but Cincinnati is playing its best basketball at the right time. The Bearcats' only loss in their past seven games was to Louisville in the Big East tournament championship game. In their two games in Nashville, they displayed a little bit of everything that goes into winning a national championship -- tough defense, rebounding, clutch free throw shooting and an array of players willing to step up and take (and make) big shots.
2. D.J. Cooper is the guard on Ohio's team who gets most of the publicity, and rightfully so. He's a fierce competitor and has a way of making all of his teammates better with his ability to penetrate and score a variety of ways. He's also a good passer. But the most indispensable guard on Ohio's team right now might be Walter Offutt. A transfer from Ohio State, Offutt is a relentless defender who sets the tone on that end. He's also the quintessential leader, and when he's scoring the way he was Sunday against South Florida, the Bobcats are a tough out for anybody.
3. Even though South Florida didn't make it out of Nashville to the Sweet 16, Stan Heath deserves a ton of credit for what he did with that program this season. If you started ranking the toughest head-coaching jobs in all of the power conferences around the country, the USF job would probably be right up there, especially with the Bulls playing in the Big East. But Heath got his kids to believe in their rugged style, which is built around defense and unselfishness, and they were able to play their way into the NCAA tournament and win the program's first NCAA tournament games.
Jason King from Omaha
1. Missouri may never live down its 86-84 loss to No. 15 seed Norfolk State. As bad as the upset was for the 2-seed Tigers, it looked even worse two days later, when the Spartans were blown out by Florida by 34 points. For Missouri, the defeat can be added to an ever-growing list of gut-wrenching moments in Tigers athletics history that includes Tyus Edney's coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup, the Ricky Clemons fiasco and the fifth-down football game against Colorado.
2. Florida is good enough to beat Marquette. The Gators entered the NCAA tournament toting losses in four of their previous five games. But two of those defeats came against Kentucky and one was against Vanderbilt. Billy Donovan's team got back on the right track in Omaha, where it defeated Virginia and Norfolk State by an average of 30 points. Florida has as good a chance as any team in the West Region to make the Final Four.
3. Kansas may not be as good as it has been in years past, but the Jayhawks are a tougher team mentally than they've been lately. KU never could get things going offensively against Purdue on Sunday. When that happened, Kansas relied on defense and rebounding to win the game. The Jayhawks scored the final six points in Sunday's 63-60 victory, and all of them came because of a defensive stop or a rebound on the other end.
Dana O'Neil from Pittsburgh
1. Syracuse is not the same but just fine without Fab Melo. There's no doubt losing the Big East's defensive player of the year affects the Orange, but as they proved against Kansas State, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are more than able-bodied replacements. The truth is, Melo was a minor factor offensively. Any points he put up were a mere bonus for Syracuse, which counts more on its backcourt for points. Christmas and Keita don't offer the heft of Melo, but both did a good job being active on the back line of the zone. Christmas had 11 rebounds and three blocks; Keita rejected two more. Even with Melo, SU was not a great rebounding team, so that was always going to be a struggle. Without him, the Orange can survive.
2. Deshaun Thomas is quickly becoming the X factor for Ohio State. Teams that pay too much attention to Jared Sullinger are regretting it thanks to Thomas. The sophomore has been coming on like gangbusters since the Buckeyes rolled into the postseason, averaging 20.8 points and 7.2 rebounds through the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. A matchup nightmare who can score inside and out, Thomas is going to give assistant coaches scouting nightmares going forward.
3. Beware Gonzaga next season. The Zags return the bulk of their lineup from a team that put together two pretty good games in the NCAA tournament. Losing Robert Sacre hurts, and Mark Few needs to find a guy to not just take over Sacre's production but his leadership. But this young team has a very bright future.
Ted Miller from Portland
1. Defense isn't enough. VCU played two great games of defense, but when its half-court offense went quiet, it yielded a lead -- and the round of 32 game -- to Indiana. Louisville played two great games of defense, but it also was able to get and then convert good looks in the waning moments, when games were decided.
2. Indiana can win pretty and ugly. The Hoosiers put on an offensive show in a second-round win over New Mexico State. Guard Jordan Hulls was 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point line and finished with a team-high 22 points and four assists with just one turnover. And he was equally out of sorts against VCU, as he was overmatched athletically, scoring just five points with five turnovers and one assist. Cody Zeller -- the best player on the floor against the Aggies -- also was out of sync most of the second half against VCU. Yet he and IU were able to overcome 22 turnovers against the Rams and find a way to win. How? By turning up the defensive focus, continuing to convert good looks and not getting frazzled when things weren't going well.
3. As Peyton Siva goes, so goes Louisville. Siva's late-season surge has coincided with the Cardinals' postseason surge. First, he dominated the Big East tournament, then he played key -- though very different -- roles in Louisville's two wins in Portland. Against Davidson, he scored. Against New Mexico, he made the critical plays in the waning moments. The Cards will play great defense no matter what -- that's their thing. But Siva, running the offense, will decide if it's another Elite Eight for the Ville.
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