Tourney Opening Weekend Recap
From buzzer-beaters to upsets, a look at the first two rounds.
by Matthew Braine
There are so many fantastic elements that make up the magic and grandeur that is the NCAA Tournament. Dramatic finishes and powerhouse blowouts go hand-in-hand with buzzer-beaters and heartbreaking losses. Some players rise to the challenge, while others falter under the pressure.
The first few rounds have already supplied fans with a high dosage of big moments, but weeding through the best of the best and the worst of the worst is no easy task. Let’s take a look at what teams and players made the cut.
Biggest Upset: No. 13 Morehead St. beats No. 4 Louisville 62-61
Hats off to VCU, Marquette, and Florida State, but the small Kentucky-based school really pulled off the classic Cinderella victory on Thursday. Demonte Harper’s gutsy three-pointer with just over four seconds remaining was the dagger that struck down heavily favored Louisville. The 6-4 guard had been just 2-9 before draining the clutch bucket including 0-5 from deep, but had the confidence of Coach Donnie Tyndall, who said he dreamed about the scenario the night before and knew that his playmaker would make the big play.
Junior guard Terrance Hill exploded for a season high 23 points to lead the Eagles offensively while the country’s leading rebounder Kenneth Faried chipped in12 points and 17 rebounds. The senior also blocked Mike Marra’s attempt at the buzzer and will likely head to the NBA next season. Bragging rights go to coach Tyndall, who showed up in-state rival Rick Pitino by knocking off the Cardinals. The win was the school’s first in the NCAA Tournament since 1984 and although the Eagles fell to Richmond on Saturday, the win over Louisville will go down as one of the best upsets in recent history.
Honorable Mention: No. 8 Butler over No. 1 Pittsburgh 71-70
This was a tough call especially since Pitt was a top seed, but the sloppy play in the end really proved to be the difference. Morehead’s win was punctuated with a big shot, while Butler’s win came as Pitt committed a costly error.
Upsetting Loss: No. 2 Notre Dame gets blown out by No. 10 Florida State.
Feeding of the VCU vibes, the Seminoles waxed the United Center floor with the Fighting Irish. It was rough riding for Ben Hansbrough and company as Florida State simply outshot and outworked Notre Dame. The ACC squad was led by 26-year-old big man, and former Air Force sergeant, Bernard James, who finished with 14 and 10.
Best Individual Performance: Brandon Knight, Kentucky
There’s a reason why Brandon Knight is a projected lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft; the kid’s got game. Stunted for 39 minutes on Thursday, the freshman guard finally came up big in the end when he hit the game-winning layup with two seconds remaining to give Kentucky a 59-57 win over Princeton. After missing his first seven shots, Knight found himself on the bench but recovered to nail the biggest shot of the game.
On Saturday, Knight was big from the start as he uncorked a few triples early and a big one late to put away West Virginia. The Mountaineers gave the Wildcats a run for their money and built an eight point lead heading into halftime. However, Knight hit a nice layup just eight seconds after the restart sparking an 11-0 run to start the second stanza. The Florida native hit seven clutch free throws down the stretch, tallying 30 points in all to go along with four assists.
Honorable Mention: Jimmer Fredette, BYU
When you average 33ppg in the first two games of the tournament, you usually garner more recognition than second place, but that’s exactly what BYU’s finest is getting here. His performance on Saturday was unconscious; 7-12 from long distance en route to 34 points against a Gonzaga team that trounced St. John’s. However, his first game came against Wofford, and although he scored 32 points, it’s a bit more impressive when a freshman puts up 30 against a great team compared to when a senior beats up on a pretty good team. Let the debate begin.
Disappointing Individual Performance: Tu Holloway, Xavier
Xavier bagged an impressive 24 wins this season and looked like a strong 6th seed heading into the tourney, even drawing some similarities to last year’s Butler squad that made the Finals. On Friday, however, the Musketeers were flat from the start; shoot just 41% from the field including 2-13 from long range as Marquette won 66-55. The Eagles primarily used 6-7 swingman Jimmy Butler to defend A-10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway and it paid off as the speedy guard missed his first seven shots and finished just 1-8 from field with a paltry five points.
Shot of the Weekend: Matt Howard, No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion
There were a lot of great shots in the last four days and a slew of game-winners to boot, but Matt Howard’s tip at the buzzer against ODU takes the cake in this category. The Butler senior put a huge bandage on a broken play after Shawn Vanzant threw an awkward shot at the rim, only to have Andrew Smith slap it against the backboard, allowing Howard the space to crash basket hard and put in the layup just as time expired. The drama of the entire sequence really makes this moment stand out. The Bulldogs broke the Monarchs spirit in the tourney for the second time in four years, as they previously topped them in 2007.
Honorable Mention: Juan Fernandez, No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State and Derrick Williams, No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 4 Texas.
Juan Fernandez earned style points for his creatively funky game-winning leaner against Penn State while Williams’ game-winning three point play saved the day for the Wildcats.
Draft Stock Rising: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Sure, he averaged 23 points over the first two games of the tournament and of course he grabbed a career-high16 rebounds against LIU on Sunday, but what really made Barnes’ weekend so special was how focused he was down the stretch of Sunday’s win over Washington. The standout freshman made a great steal with less than two minutes remaining and found a streaking Dexter Strickland with an outlet pass, who put the team up by six, ensuring a UNC win despite a late push from the Huskies. Barnes also had another steal around 5:00 mark, which he converted into a layup. He added a three-pointer 30 seconds later, giving the Tar Heels a lead they would never relinquish.
Everyone knows Barnes as a one-and-done candidate, but after his early season struggles some critics were questioning his first round legitimacy. Silencing the skeptics, Barnes has averaged 22 points over his last eight games and looks NBA-ready now more than ever.
Draft Stock Falling: Tristan Thompson, Texas
Thompson is a good player, evident by his 13/8/2 averages as a freshman in the Big 12, but taking a look at some key games certainly raises some questions. In the conference championship game, Thompson got into foul trouble, mustering just seven points and two rebounds against Kansas. On Sunday, the forward put up just three points and six rebounds as the Longhorns choked away a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
Playing so poorly in essentially the two biggest games of his career thus far is obviously going to draw some attention, but it’s certainly not the be all, end all. Thompson was a force defensively in both those games and should develop into a really good player.