We have to start with No.9 Northern Iowa knocking off top-seeded Kansas. It was one thing watching No.2 Villanova falling to 10th-seeded St. Mary’s, because the Wildcats hadn’t played well in over a month. But Kansas had all the goods to make the Final Four. But those things happen in a single-game elimination tournament.
Of course that’s no excuse. Kansas, at the very least, was the second best team in the country (some would argue Kentucky is better). Kansas did a terrible job protecting the perimeter. Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh hit four three-pointers, including an uncontested one with 23.4 seconds left. The Panthers went 9-for-26 from three-point range. Not exactly a great percentage (34.6 percent), but they had open looks all night.
Villanova falling to St. Mary’s wasn’t a shock, especially after the way Jay Wright’s crew played against Robert Morris. The shock was Scottie Reynolds having two awful shooting games in a row. He was 2-for-15 against Robert Morris and 2-for-11 against the Gaels. Corey Fisher, who totaled 15 points in the two games, was invisible, too. The odds of both of those guys playing like you-know-what for two straight games were slim.
How about the PAC-10? Like we mentioned yesterday, it’s funny how we ridiculed the PAC-10. Now they have a team in the Sweet 16. Washington looked great in an 82-64 win over New Mexico. Cal will get a shot at No.1 Duke on Sunday. And don’t think the Golden Bears will be any less fired up than Washington.
Chalk up one for the Mid-majors. Northern Iowa, Butler and St. Mary’s have all advanced to the Sweet 16. The remaining mid-majors –Cornell and Gonzaga– will get a chance to join the party on Sunday. Even if the Big Red and the Zags don’t win, getting three teams into the Sweet 16 says a lot about how the game has changed. And all three of the remaining teams have a legitimate shot at getting to the Elite 8.
And last but not least, Kentucky has turned itself into the proverbial buzz saw. We thought Kansas was deep and talented. But the Wildcats have an endless amount of talented big men, a great backcourt and a coach who knows how to win. Talk about a lethal combination.
Best performance of the day: Jacob Pullen had 34 points, including seven three-pointers for Kansas State in its 84-72 win over BYU. The Wildcats “held” BYU’s Jimmer Fredette to 21 points.
Cause for concern: Believe it or not Kentucky has a cause for concern. The Wildcats shot just 7-for-17 from the free throw line. That could be a problem in a close game.