Coping With The Tourney


No more Utah, Stanford, or North Carolina. See you next year, Arizona.

In surprising supply, big-name teams and big-name players won't be with us for the rest of the college basketball season ... and that's OK. The first and second rounds provided plenty of sizzling action and instant stars, with the promise of more on the way.

It's on to the Sweet 16, but here's a glance back at the initial go-round of March Madness.

Player of the Weekend

Wally Szczerbiak, Miami of Ohio

It's Wally's World ... we're just living in it.

He had the performance of the tournament when he scored 43 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked the final shot to preserve a 59-58 victory and shove Washington out the door.

The RedHawks' second-round game against defensive-minded Utah figured to be tougher for Szczerbiak -- and it was. Utes coach Rick Majerus tried to blanket him with some well-designed defenses, but Szczerbiak didn't force the action. He calmly found other options while still scoring 24 points, as likely to hit a three as fake past a defender for a dunk.

He hit all 10 of his foul shots against second-seeded Utah, including six in the final 89 seconds, as Miami advanced with a 66-58 victory. He also had seven rebounds and five assists.

His line from the first two rounds: 80 minutes, 67 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks, three steals ... and only three turnovers.

Kind of reminds everyone of a particular forward from 20 years. He, too, had remarkable all-around skills and played for a small Midwestern school. Somebody named Larry Bird.

Best game

Kansas vs. Kentucky. A well-played game between titanic programs, filled with career-best performances and a dramatic finish. At the end, Kentucky, as it usually does against Kansas, won 92-88 in overtime.

Kentucky senior forward Scott Padgett scored a career-high 29, including a game-tying 3-pointer with 18.7 seconds left in regulation and seven points in overtime. Another senior, Kansas guard Ryan Robertson, scored 31 points but was forced to go home and ponder passing up a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation.

This could stand as the game of the tournament.

So long ...

It was curtains for "The Show" in the second-round, but the appropriately nicknamed Harold Arceneaux of Weber State was plenty entertaining during his brief time on the national stage.

Arceneaux, a smooth 6-foot-6 forward, scored 36 against in a stunning first-round upset of North Carolina. He followed up with 32 against Florida.

"Arceneaux might be one of the best players, if not the best, that I've seen this season," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team needed overtime to overcome Weber State. "I can see why they call him 'The Show.' He's flat-out ridiculous."

Here are six others who will be missed:

  • Lamar Odom, Rhode Island -- "Helo, these are the L.A. Clippers calling ..."
  • Jason Terry, Arizona -- A Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan State point guard Mateen Cleaves would have been one to circle on the calendar.
  • Baron Davis, UCLA -- His highlight-show moves will be part of the NBA package next season.
  • Tim James, Miami -- The Big East co-Player of the Year deserved more time in the spotlight.
  • Demond Mason and Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma State -- The most productive duo in the tournament, combining for 102 points in two games.

Best rebounder (under 6-foot division)

Ohio State 5-foot-10 point guard Scoonie Penn isn't hitting his shots -- could it be the lingering effects of a lower back injury suffered last month? -- but he scurried for 12 rebounds against Detroit, giving him 18 through two tournament games. That helped offset his 7-for-27 shooting.

A close second: Gonzaga guard Quentin Hall -- 5-8 on his tiptoes -- who darted among the Stanford trees to grab a team-high eight boards in a second-round upset. Said Hall: "I own the rebounds. I'm about 6-8 when it comes to rebounding."

Most lovable underdog

So many bracket-busters to chose from ...

There are five double-digit seeds improbably still alive, but two can immediately be eliminated from cuddly status -- Oklahoma, which plays in a major conference and were big bullies a decade ago, and Purdue, also a big-conference team and usual front-runner.

There's also 10th-seeded Miami of Ohio, but the RedHawks have a superstar in Wally Szczerbiak, a quality lacking from true underdogs. So it's between No. 12 seed Southwest Missouri State and No. 10 Gonzaga.

The pick here: Gonzaga.

The Zags are a classic small-school underdog -- they shoot well, they're scrappy, they're quirky. Scruffy junior guard Matt Santangelo isn't about to shave his good-luck beard. He tried sideburns when he was a freshman, a goatee as a sophomore.

"This is kind of scrubby," he said. "But I kind of like the look."

Best defensive performance

Steve Alford's Southwest Missouri State Bears have turned into defensive monsters, not something you'd necessarily expect from the ex-Indiana Hoosier jump shooter. But Alford's team has been stingy enough to make Temple's John Chaney proud.

Check it out: Wisconsin made 12 of 47 shots against the Bears, crawling to 12 first-half points before slinking out of the tournament with a 43-32 loss. Tennessee also ran into the Bears' buzz saw, connecting on only 18 of 61 shots, rarely getting an open look.

That's a combined 30 of 108 shooting, 27.8 percent.

Like the signs in the Charlotte Coliseum said: "SMS Basketball: You can't Alford to miss it."

Best Sweet 16 matchup

The South turned out to be the most boring region, with the seeds lining up one through four as they should. But now it gives us this gem: No. 3 seed St. John's vs. N. 2 seed Maryland.

St. John's whacked Indiana 86-61 in the second round, prompting IU coach Bob Knight to say the Red Storm was "the most impressive team I've seen this year." Maryland is one of the most athletic teams in the country and usually runs opponents out of the building.

But can the Terps outpace St. John's? Both teams prefer warp-speed, and if they get rolling, this could be a terrifyingly fast game between top 10 teams.

So the other regions can have their upsets and Sweet 16 curiosities. The South is built for action.



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