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March 21, 2010
A New Era
No More Chalk Brackets

by John Gasaway

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This year's Sweet 16 is sure to be different than what we've become accustomed to. Indeed, to put yesterday into perspective, last year's lovable second-weekend scrappy underdog was 12-seed Arizona. The last two tournaments have been so bereft of upsets that we've almost forgotten how fun they can be--unless the favorite happens to be your team, of course.

2008  4.4
2009  3.1
2010  5.9

Those are the average seeds of the teams that made the 2008 and 2009 Sweet 16s, along with the average seeding position of the eight teams that have thus far made the 2010 get-together. Even if the higher-seeded team wins every game today (quite an if, obviously), we'd still be looking at an average seed of 4.25 for the Sweet 16. Clearly something is afoot this year. Ask Bill Self.

(9) Northern Iowa 69, (1) Kansas 67 [63 possessions]
Why were you right to be so surprised by this result? Mainly because you'd never expect an overall one-seed with "KANSAS" on its jersey to allow the Missouri Valley Conference's sixth-best offense to score 69 points in 63 possessions.

Make no mistake, the Panthers were clearly the class of the Valley this year, it's just that they get the job done with defense--and only defense. That changed yesterday, obviously. It's not that the Panthers went nuts making threes (9-of-26), though you'll forgive Kansas fans haunted with the memory of Ali Farokhmanesh for thinking that is precisely what took place. No, more like UNI simply wasn't placed in any great discomfort by the Jayhawks as they ran their offense. Ben Jacobson's team took care of the ball (until KU slapped on a full-court press late in the game), got to the line, and put three scorers into double-figures (Farokhmanesh, Jordan Eglseder, and Jake Koch).

It's true that there were warning signs. As I noted last month, this Kansas defense was nowhere near as dominant as the ones in 2007 and 2008. Big 12 opponents made 38 percent of their threes against KU in conference play and even recorded a fair number of offensive boards. All true enough, but I have to admit I thought those would be concerns that would be addressed one way or another at the Final Four, not in the second round.

While Cole Aldrich did record a 13-10 double-double, he and and Sherron Collins (4-of-15 and 0-of-6 on threes to go along with four assists and five turnovers) were not able to lead their team to a win. Ironically, they got closer to the prize last year with a younger and far less experienced team.

For now we are left with what bids fair to be the signature moment of the first weekend, Farokhmanesh's high-arching three off a fast break with 34 seconds remaining and his team up by one. My colleague Ken Pomeroy has pointed out that Farokhmanesh was, after all, merely taking advantage of a wide-open look, one that probably wasn't going to come again in that possession. No doubt. But under the circumstances you could almost literally hear the crowd holding its breath. If Farokhmanesh misses that shot (as he did six out of ten times from beyond the arc), KU is headed back the other way down a point and with the shot clock turned off. Sometimes you have to be bold to be sensible.

(6) Tennessee 83, (14) Ohio 68 [72]
The Bobcats were not the same outfit that rang up 97 points against Georgetown. Facing the Volunteers, Ohio made ten threes (thanks to 6-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc by Tommy Freeman) but could get nothing whatsoever going inside. Meantime J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson were busy scoring a combined 35 points on 14-of-18 shooting for the Volunteers.

(10) Saint Mary's 75, (2) Villanova 68 [66]
Omar Samhan scored 32 points on 13-of-16 shooting, as the Gaels looked like anything but an overmatched 10-seed against 'Nova. With a post threat like Samhan surrounded by the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Ben Allen, and high-arching bank-shot three specialist Mickey McConnell, Randy Bennett's group has the look of legitimate second-weekend material. As for the Wildcats, they didn't exactly figure to shut Saint Mary's down, of course, but I was surprised at how quietly Scottie Reynolds ended his career (2-of-11, eight points). The drives into the paint that allowed his team to escape Robert Morris became contested jump shots against the Gaels. Already in the tournament we've seen the likes of Reynolds, Sherron Collins, and James Anderson not only lose but also depart rather inconspicuously. It's a trend to watch.

(3) Baylor 76, (11) Old Dominion 68 [64]
The Big 12 may have lost its regular-season and tournament champion yesterday, but the league still has some pretty good representation headed to the Sweet 16. For Scott Drew's team to score 76 points in a game this slow against a defense this good is impressive. Lace Dunn scored 26 points while going 4-of-11 outside the arc and 5-of-5 inside it. Next up for Baylor and Ekpe Udoh is Omar Samhan. I guess I'll watch that.

(11) Washington 82, (3) New Mexico 64 [70]
Quincy Pondexter was nominally in foul trouble, but even he scored 18 points in 30 minutes, in what proved to be a lopsided affair after the first half's under-12 timeout. The Huskies this season were outstanding at holding onto the ball, but in this game they also made their threes (8-of-17). The Lobos would have had to score a lot of points to keep up with Lorenzo Romar's team on this night. Who knows, maybe they could have done so if Steve Alford had five Dairese Garys at his disposal (25 points on 11-of-20 shooting).

(1) Kentucky 90, (9) Wake Forest 60 [68]
John Calipari's youngsters don't exactly seem to be succumbing to the pressure cooker that is the NCAA tournament, do they? It's true Al-Farouq Aminu watched a lot of this game due to foul trouble, but the way the Wildcats looked Aminu could have been replaced by Bill Russell in his prime without changing the outcome. UK made 74 percent of their twos, an astonishing figure that by one count included 13 layups and six dunks. Kentucky's offense has picked a good time to live up to the aura created by a really good D.

(5) Butler 54, (13) Murray St. 52 [57]
Ronald Nored scored an old-fashioned three-point play off a drive into the lane with 25 seconds left to put the Bulldogs in front for good. Matt Howard played just 18 minutes and scored three points for Brad Stevens' team due to foul trouble. For the Racers, Isaiah Canaan led the way with 14 points, but lost the handle on the ball on the game's final play. Speaking of which, Murray State actually shot significantly better than Butler from the field. The difference between moving on and going home this time was turnovers: 18 for the Racers, just six for the Bulldogs.

(2) Kansas St. 84, (7) BYU 72 [70]
Jacob Pullen rained threes and free throws on the Cougars, scoring 34 points thanks to 7-of-12 shooting outside and an 11-of-11 performance at the line. And his defense frustrated the heck out of Jimmer Fredette, who reached a somewhat misleading 21 points with the help of some late-game baskets. Yes, in the category of Chicago-area guards playing for Big 12 teams located in the Sunflower State, Pullen definitely carried the day.

John doesn't have space for eight game recaps on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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