Friday March 21st, 2008

Five things we learned while wondering if it's appropriate to talk about drinking the San Diego Kool-Aid:

San Diego's Rob Jones is more than just a fascinating story. Jim Jones' grandson can really play. The Toreros never would have pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament (by taking down UConn 70-69 in OT) if Jones hadn't made two insane shots right in the grill of 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet down the stretch. The first was a did-you-see-that reverse lay-up in the final minute of regulation, and the second was a fearless drive for an and-one lay-up to put USD up by one with 24.9 seconds left. De'Jon Jackson's fade-away game-winning jumper was just the icing on the cake. If you'd told me that one of the West Coast Conference teams would win on Friday, the last candidate I would have suggested was San Diego.

Davidson's Stephen Curry is Wally Szczerbiak, circa 1999. Curry's 40-point tour de force to lead Davidson past Gonzaga 82-76 was eerily reminiscent of another classic tournament performance, Szczerbiak's 67 total points in Miami's upsets of Washington and Utah in 1999. Curry has one of the sweetest strokes you'll ever see (a lot like his daddy, Dell Curry), and he'll need to be just as fearless if the Wildcats are to have any chance of knocking off big, bad Georgetown on Sunday. But give special mention to Davidson's Andrew Lovedale, who had 12 points, 13 boards and the key loose-ball grab that led to Curry's late three-pointer, the biggest shot of the game. And save some space for Davidson coach Bob McKillop, a coach's coach who's finally getting the recognition he has long deserved.

We're finally starting to see some close, well-played games. A lack of upsets is one thing, but a lack of close games is a downer of a much greater magnitude. That's why Thursday was such a bummer (Duke-Belmont excepted), and also why the first round of games on Friday was so refreshing. Davidson-Gonzaga was a close game that featured solid execution, and Western Kentucky's pulsating 101-99 overtime win over Drake was even better. Drake's late comeback from a 16-point deficit spoke volumes for Keno Davis's crew, but just when you thought it was the Bulldogs day the Hilltoppers came back with a double-barreled comeback of their own, capped by Ty Rogers' ridiculous three-pointer at the buzzer to win. Which brings us to three questions: What the heck is that WKU mascot anyway? Could Rogers look any more like former Indiana star Tom Coverdale? And was it any coincidence that the two best-played games of the first round have involved zero teams from BCS conferences?

Butler-Tennessee is going to be one hell of a second-round game. We knew Butler's Pete Campbell was a dead-eye shooter--we plugged him in our SI mag story this week as one of the tournament's best three-point-shooting big men--but his 8-for-10 game from behind the arc was breathtaking as the Bulldogs blew out South Alabama 81-61. Butler-Tennessee will be less like a No. 7-No. 2 game than a No. 4-No. 1 game (their more appropriate seeds, anyway), and both teams' fearless M.O.'s have my mouth watering more than for any other second-round match-up.

More evidence that what passes through my mind during games isn't entirely normal. Who knew that Stephen Curry's mom was the actress Thandie Newton (or at least someone who looks exactly like her)? ... Fresh faces are one thing, but what's up with all the faces that look like they're 12 years old? I'm talking about Curry, Butler coach Brad Stevens and Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn ... Two-for-two in OT games, Tampa is the new Boise ... What would happen if the sister of UCLA's Lorenzo Mata-Real married WKU's Orlando Mendez-Valdez and decided to keep her maiden name? ... Our favorite reader letter from our SI story on college basketball fan abuse: "I was shocked to see, in a photo of the Oregon student section, my son partaking in the harassment of UCLA's Kevin Love. When he came home the following weekend, his car was taken away and he headed back to school on a bus. I am embarrassed and wish to apologize to Kevin and his family." -- Armando Navarro, Clackamas, Ore.

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