Inside the College Game
The first weekend of games is over and, as always, it delivered the goods. All four #1 seeds remain. The Big East has five teams in the Sweet 16 and has left no doubt to which conference was king this year. North Carolina got their point guard back, but is he completely healthy? Here is a deeper look at the results of the 1st & 2nd rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Sherron Collins & Cole Aldrich, Kansas: The defending champs have advanced to the sweet 16 despite losing all five starters from last year’s team. Collins and Aldrich have now formed a duo and are starting a new chapter in Kansas basketball history looking to get back to the final four. With wins over North Dakota State and Dayton, Collins has scored a total of 57 points (second only to Blake Griffin). While Collins provides plenty of offensive power for the Jayhawks, Aldrich is busy controlling the backboards, gathering a total of 33 in both wins. On Sunday, Aldrich had a triple-double with 13 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocks. The only other player to record a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double in the NCAA tournament was Shaq in 1992. Last year's championship game participants, Kansas and Memphis, were both expected to take big steps backwards this season, but they're both alive in the tourney and doing well.
Wayne Ellington, North Carolina: The Tarheels took care of business in the 1st two rounds of the tourney and Ellington was a big part of it. In a blowout of Radford in the 1st round, Ellington led the Tarheels with 25 points on an efficient 11 for 16 shooting. On Saturday, in a much closer contest vs. the LSU Tigers, Ellington led the Tarheels again, scoring 23 points. But, Ellington’s stats cannot justify his performance on Saturday. When North Carolina briefly lost the lead in the 2nd half, it was Ellington who willed them back. Also, when the Tarheels seemed to be struggling to find a hoop, Ellington was the guy who stepped up and got the much needed basket. Doing so on a team with a former National Player of the Year in Tyler Hansbrough and current ACC Player of the Year, Ty Lawson, albeit slightly injured, makes his latest leadership performance more impressive. He is now shooting 20/32 in the tournament.
Wake Forest: This was the once top ranked team in the country that beat both North Carolina and Duke. On Friday night they got bounced from the tourney in the 1st round, and really never were in the game, getting flattened, 84-69 by the 13th seeded Cleveland State Vikings. Jeff Teague was taken out of rhythm right from the get-go of this game, despite once being ranked as a top 10 pick appears far from ready for the next level. He scored only 2 points in the 1st half and finished with 10 for the game which was about half of his average on the year. The Demon Deacons had a disappointing finish to the year. On January 28th, they beat the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils, and boasted a 17-1 record. After that win, they were a mediocre 7-6 with their latest casualty coming as a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament. With Teague and teammates James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu all facing decisions on whether to test the NBA waters, Dino Gaudio faces a lot of uncertainty with his team for next year.
Atlantic Coast Conference: Wake Forest was the headliner loss, but it did not end there for the ACC. In fact, if you take UNC and Duke out of the picture (who we all knew were legit teams), the ACC have gone 1-5 in the NCAA tournament and 0-4 in games which they were the highest seed. I understand you cannot simply take out the best two teams in the conference when evaluating the ACC. But, you can take a look at how deep the conference really was this year. At times the ACC was compared to the Big East (who is currently 11-2 in the tournament) as the best conference in the country, and this should end all discussion.
James Harden, Arizona State: The first team all-american was non-existant in the first two rounds compared to his level of play during the regular season. Harden had a total of 3 field goals in 2 tournament games, shooting 16%. The Sun Devils escaped Temple in the 1st round, mostly due to teammate Jeff Pendergraph (22 points) and good outside shooting (8/14 from three-point territory). But, Arizona State was unable to continue in the tournament past Syracuse when their superstar failed to show up for the 2nd straight game. He averaged 9.5 points in the two tournament games after averaging over 20 ppg this year.
Roburt Sallie, Memphis: On Saturday, the Tigers looked like the team that we are used to, trouncing Maryland, 89-70. But, it wasn’t easy getting there and if it weren’t for Sallie’s performance on Thursday vs. Cal-State Northridge, the Tigers may have been going home earlier than expected. The sophomore who averaged 4.5 points a game during the regular season, exploded for a career high 35 points on 10/15 shooting from three. His 10 three-pointers made were the 2nd most ever in a NCAA tournament game. Although he wasn’t needed as much on Saturday, he was still on fire from deep, hitting 3 of 4 from the arc and finishing with 13 points. Sallie’s hot shooting couldn’t have come at a better time for Memphis. His 48 tourney points leads the Tigers (and is 3rd overall in the tournament), and he is shooting 68% from three. Sallie had scored only a total of 47 points in his previous 10 games heading into the NCAA tournament. Opposing teams must find a way to "slow that mustang down".
UConn: The Huskies have looked sharper than anyone thus far in the tournament, winning by an average of 41 points and putting up 97.5 points a game. The game versus Chatanooga was a formality, although other #1 seeds Louisville and Pittsburgh were played tight in the first round. UConn’s second round match-up versus #9 seed Texas A&M is where they were most impressive. With Coach Calhoun back strolling the sidelines, the Huskies looked like they had been reenergized. The game started 10-0 UConn, and it never got much closer. The Huskies shot 58% from the field and outrebounded Texas A&M by 14. Senior Jeff Adrien led the way with 23 points on 11 of 16 shooting. AJ Price is starting to show everybody that he is one of the best point guards in the country. He has scored 47 points in two games. Stanley Robinson has continued to provide the Huskies with one of the most athletic wing players in the country, and is scoring a bit too (24 vs. Chattanooga, and 12 vs. Tex. A&M).
The scary part about UConn is that Hasheem Thabeet hasn’t even come to play his best ball yet. The Big East co-player of the year had only 6 points and 4 rebounds vs. Texas A&M. If the Huskies continue to get contributions from all around, and Thabeet starts to control the paint like he has all year, then UConn will be tough to knock off.