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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The second weekend

Last weekend’s opening round of the NCAA Tournament was one for the ages. The upsets were a plenty and the drama was unmatched by any movie. But what can we expect going into the second weekend?

The upsets we projected, failed to come to fruition, while the games we had written off as all but won proved to be anything but guaranteed. As the games were being played I had already thrown my bracket out the window, pulling for the little guys to dethrone the national powers. Giants such as Georgetown and Wisconsin were knocked off quickly, but nobody projected Kansas to fall so soon.

As the number one overall seed in the tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks had a presumed path to the Final Four. Little did they know that the Panthers of Northern Iowa would show up to play. Led by senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, UNI played the game of their lives. Slowed by a full-court press late in the game, UNI finally broke through the press. With a full shot-clock and about a minute left in the game, Farokhmanesh would knock down one of the ballsiest shots in tournament history, inevitably ending the Jayhawks season.

UNI is not the only mid-major program causing havoc in tournament pools. Ivy League champion Cornell has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time, but faces the very talented Kentucky Wildcats in their next game. The Saint Mary’s Gaels are also a surprise, as they take on the upstart Baylor Bears. But don’t be surprised if one of these three teams dances its way to the Final Four. As we all should know by now anything is possible in March.

Several teams are doing their best to shed the “mid-major” title. The Xavier Minutemen are legit and must be taken seriously. In the past seven seasons, the Minutemen have advanced to the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight twice. The Butler Bulldogs and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are perennial national contenders every year. They both excel throughout the regular season, playing extremely competitive non-conference schedules and consistently win tournament games. Mid-major or not, nobody should be taken for granted in the tournament.

The biggest disappointment of the tournament by far have been the representatives of the Big East. Before the tournament began, the Big East was proclaimed by most, including me, as the best basketball conference in the country. With eight teams at the start of the tournament, only two remain. Syracuse and West Virginia must carry the load for the underachieving conference going forward into the second weekend. However, Syracuse still remains a favorite to advance to the Final Four and win the championship.

With my Final Four already skewed by one, I will replace Georgetown with Tennessee to face Syracuse. My projection of Kentucky versus Duke still looks solid. Going into the tournament, I was concerned about the Wildcats inexperience, but thus far they look scary good. Led by all-world freshman John Wall, Duke will have their hands full. But I stand my by original prediction of Syracuse defeating Duke in the national championship game.

The second weekend of the tournament will not disappoint. Make sure to have your game snacks ready and to schedule your bathroom breaks accordingly, because you will not want to miss anything. Let the madness ensue!

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