The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament always delivers excitement, and this year was no exception.
From Thursday to Sunday, we got to see thrilling finishes, monumental upsets and dominant individual performances. Here is a look at the 10 most compelling stories from the opening weekend of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
10. The Florida Gators’ Dominance
If any team impressed in their first two games, it was 7-seed Florida.
Their average margin of victory in the first two games was 30 points, and surprisingly their defense has been stifling. They held Virginia to 45 points and Norfolk State (who may have been just a little drained after their first game – more on that later) to 50.
I still don’t think the Gators can beat Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen, but with a handful of guards capable of putting up big scoring numbers on any given night they certainly have a chance. Brad Beal, Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Mike Rosario play at such a frenetic pace that it constantly puts stress on defenses. If they defend against Marquette like they did in the first two rounds, and a couple of those guards go off, it could be the Elite 8 for Florida.
And let’s not forget that Billy Donovan is no stranger to deep runs in March.
9. Will Sheehey’s Jumper Sets Stage for Indiana-Kentucky Rematch
Will Sheehey pulled the trigger on a jumper with just over 12 seconds left on Saturday against VCU rather than holding for the last shot, and the Hoosiers made their way into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002.
Here’s a pretty cool video of fans celebrating in a bar after Sheehey’s shot fell:
Indiana will face Kentucky next, and they were the only team in the regular season to beat the Wildcats this year. If the rematch is anywhere near as intense as that first game, we’re in for one hell of a good time.
8. Only 2 Teams From Non-BCS Conferences in the Sweet Sixteen
While it’s clear that parity is alive and well in college hoops, this tournament has been ruled by the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big East.
Only Xavier (Atlantic-10) and Ohio (MAC) have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen as members of less prestigious conferences. Xavier (victories over Notre Dame and Lehigh) is a perennial NCAA tourney team, so seeing them in this position isn’t too surprising, but Ohio had to shock the Big Ten’s Michigan and the Big East’s South Florida in order to keep dancing.
We’ll see if Ohio can continue their Cinderella story against 1-seed North Carolina. Xavier, meanwhile, will face Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen.
7. North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall Fractures Wrist
Kendall Marshall has been stellar for the Tar Heels in the tournament, so when he hit the ground after a hard foul from Creighton’s Ethan Wragge, fans held their breaths. Marshall didn’t come out of the game immediately, but he was clearly in pain while trying to use his right hand, which, as it turns out, was fractured in the fall.
Marshall is left-handed, so it’s not clear whether the injury will keep him out of Friday’s game against Ohio. If he is unable to go, it is a huge blow to the Tar Heels, who are thin at point guard. It would likely be up to freshman Stilman White or senior Justin Watts to handle the ball if Marshall were unable to go, but both are huge dropoffs from Marshall in terms of ability to run the offense.
For my money (and my bracket), North Carolina is the only team to be able to contend talent-wise with Kentucky. If Marshall were to miss more than one game (I think they will beat Ohio with or without Marshall), I think it could be enough to knock the Heels out of the tournament.
6. Draymond Green is a Monster
Michigan State’s Draymond Green was named Big Ten Player of the Year this season, and now he’s showing the whole country that he deserved that honor. If he keeps playing like he has in the first two games, he might be in line for quite a few more accolades.
Averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds and 8 assists (including a triple-double in the opening game against LIU Brooklyn), Green has proven himself capable of playing quality basketball on both ends of the floor and capable of being an emotional leader for the Spartans.
Green has demonstrated an ability to shoot from the outside, post up, pass from the interior and play tough defense. The Spartans needed every bit of that too, as they narrowly edged a tough St. Louis team in the round of 32.
Since Green is a senior, this is his last chance to improve his draft stock. Judging by what I’ve seen in Big Ten play this year and in the first two games of the NCAA tourney, I can’t help but think that he has moved himself squarely into the first round of the NBA draft.
What were the top 5 storylines from the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend? Well, Draymond Green wasn’t the only superstar putting up monster performances, and I seem to remember a few epic upsets…plus one that almost was.
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