by Adam Fleischer
For all the hype that was surrounding last night’s USC-Kansas State game, little of it had to do with anyone other than OJ Mayo or Michael Beasley. That was a mistake. Ben gave us a head start reminder yesterday of how good K-State’s Bill Walker is, and Bill thanked our Ed. by bringing his A game last night. The Wildcats really showed something in their 80-67 win.
Not to say that I didn’t think that they were a team that could make some noise in the coming weeks before I saw them beat the Trojans. On the contrary, there was a time in between Sunday and Thursday when I had them in the Final Four in my bracket (I then brilliantly decided to have them get knocked out in the first round). The reason I was high on them and tempted to believe that they could win tournament games was because of the undeniable talents of guys like Beasley and Walker as well as the fact that, when they play to their full potential as they did against Kansas on January 30 and last night, they can be an elite team. After all, they do have the nation’s best player. But what made me nervous about K-State was that teams would be hounding Beasley to an even greater extent than they did in the regular season and I didn’t know how guys would respond to that.
Well, Walker responded more than adequately, to the tune of 17 first half points. Beasley’s early struggles and foul trouble were easily overcome, thanks in large part to Walker’s first half. When Beasley got in his element later in the game, finishing with 23 and 11, the teams didn’t look even. I think that they have a chance to knock off Wisconsin on Saturday, as long as everyone comes to play, especially those two. The Badgers had trouble putting away Cal State Fullerton for a while and, while I know that defense wins championships, I think their inability to score will hurt them at some point.
Some other notable late games (other than my Celtics completing their sweep of the Texas teams) included Duke-Belmont and West Virginia-Arizona. By the time that Kansas State had built up a healthy second half lead, I was yelling at CBS to take us to the Duke-Belmont game that had been close throughout. When they finally did with about five minutes left, I really thought Belmont was going to have a chance to pull the upset: they were hitting threes (although taking a hell of a lot of them), playing smart defensively, and rebounding. An inexplicably poorly executed inbounds play sealed Belmont’s fate, but at least it looks like Duke might lose next round. They have to face a West Virginia team that also shoots the ball well and has a rising star in Joe Alexander, plus I’ll be interested to see how worn down the Dukies are from playing down to the wire in round one (granted, WVU’s game was close until the end, too). I like the Mountaineers.
The night’s other games saw Washington State and Notre Dame each end up winning pretty handily. This should be another tight one on Saturday, pitting top tier squads from two of this season’s best conferences. Over in the West, I think UCLA will be able to move to the Sweet 16 after they defeat Texas A&M, who took down BYU by five. I’m not even going to mention the score of the Bruins game, but they were the second number one seed to win easily (Kansas) and let’s just say that they should be as well rested as you can be in this situation, as all of their starters played somewhere in the vicinity of 20 mins last night.
The guys who I predicted would be UCLA’s Elite 8 opponent weren’t able to wrap things up as quickly as the Bruins. Georgia had me thinking that they were going to continue with their Cinderalla ride that began in the SEC Tournament, but Xavier was ultimately able to put a stop to that prospect. Drew Lavender is as quick and good as he is tiny and Josh Duncan has a very nice touch for a big man, two of the reasons that I think the Musketeers will be able to take down an often overlooked Purdue team. Even though I don’t think they’ll be able to live to see the second weekend, this year’s young Purdue team has certainly shown signs of having what it takes to win in March.
Day One didn’t have the sort of upsets that we’ve come to love and expect, nor were the majority of the games all that close, but I was glued to the TV nonetheless. I’m a not-so-respectable 11 for 16 on my picks so far, which has me lagging at 68th in the Slamonline Yahoo group. Maybe Day Two will bring some better fortune for my bracket, or at least a couple upsets.